That's how a handful of young professional women in the Omaha metropolitan area view Yahoo's appointment earlier this week of Marissa Mayer as the Internet giant's new CEO.
Mayer is a young woman — 37. And, a few hours after she was named CEO, Mayer announced that she's pregnant.
Before landing the Yahoo job,she worked her way up through the ranks at Google, starting as its 20th employee and wrapping up her 13-year stint as a vice president.
Michelle Zych, executive director of the Women's Fund of Omaha, said Yahoo's status-quo-bucking choice — and Mayer's willingness to accept the challenge — are “a really big deal” given that few women hold top corporate jobs nationally or locally. Zych admits she spent the day after the announcement “talking to anybody and everybody who'd listen to me talk about it.”
“It is daunting, but that's what makes it inspiring, the idea of challenging yourself and not holding back in the way you want to grow,” said Zych, 30. “I think she's absolutely an inspiration.”
At the same time, others noted that few outside the tech world would be talking — or writing — about the hire if Mayer weren't female, not to mention pregnant. While Mayer's name is on a lot of tongues, few outside the company know the name of the man whom she succeeded.
“It's a little discouraging to see that's how far we have come,” said Nicole Hanson, 27, an attorney at Fraser Stryker law firm in Omaha.
But it has captured attention for the same reason Zych and others are hailing its significance: the numbers.
A June report by the nonprofit group Catalyst noted that women hold just 4 percent of CEO jobs at Fortune 500 companies and fill 16 percent of corporate board seats. While the statistics don't show it, such women typically have been older, with children who are older.
Locally, the numbers are similar, according to the Women's Fund of Omaha's recent survey of 48 of the largest, locally based employers. Two of the companies were headed by women. Women held 14 percent of board seats in the business sector, 21 percent in health care and 26 percent in higher education.
Granted, not every woman — or man, for that matter — would want to step into Mayer's shoes. She reported working 90-hour weeks recently at Google, according to the Wall Street Journal, and Yahoo, which operates a data center in La Vista, faces challenges, including flat second-quarter revenues.
But women should have the opportunity to make that choice, several local women said.
“You shouldn't feel like you have to do everything, but you should have the opportunity,” said Stacie Petter, 34, an associate professor in the University of Nebraska at Omaha's information systems and qualitative analysis department. “You shouldn't be held back because of your gender or race or anything else.”
Zych said she senses that Mayer will become a role model for young women like herself “who are seeking examples of strong, intelligent women (who) can illustrate what success can and does look like.”
The fund's research indicates that role models are important, she said. Two-thirds of the 47 top female executives interviewed for its latest study noted that they'd had a strong female example.
Danielle Crough, a human capital consultant with the SilverStone Group in Omaha, said Mayer's appointment also sends a message that women can mix success and motherhood — and that it can happen at the same time.
Crough said the metropolitan area has wonderful examples of successful businesswomen. Crough, 28, whose first child is due next month, has had plenty of questions for the women she's met as a participant in the women's fund's Circles program.
Now in its first year, the program is an effort to introduce younger women to the fund and give them a chance to interact with established professional women in the community, but it's nice to have younger examples, too, she said.
“I see myself as really just starting out my career,” said Crough, who completed a doctorate in industrial organizational psychology in May. “So, for me, the family and the career are going to happen simultaneously.”
Petter, the UNO professor, said Mayer's rise personally inspires her. Petter was pregnant with her son, now 6, when she was finishing her doctorate and beginning to look for jobs.
It's also inspiring to students because it shows they can grow in technology fields, if they choose to and their skills allow it, she said.
Petter said only about 18 percent of those who graduate with computer science degrees now are women, down from about a third in the 1980s.
Last year, she set up a program at UNO to engage people from the college and the community on the topic of women and information technology. One of the group's projects was to present awards to high school girls who aspire to tech careers through the university's alliance with the National Center for Women in Information Technology.
Of course, Mayer's pregnancy inevitably raises questions around balancing work and home life. The young women interviewed all are well aware of the issues.
Shannon Hite, vice president of Mutual of Omaha's customer contact center, said everyone has to figure out her own balance between work and outside obligations, whatever those obligations may be.
“I have found it very doable,” said Hite, 31, who has an 18-month-old at home and a second child on the way. “But I am fortunate to work for an organization that values the family and the work-life aspect.”
Petter's family made a different choice. Her husband, who'd also been in the tech field, stays home with their son.
Crough said it will be interesting to see how Yahoo's new CEO manages motherhood and an executive career. Mayer's appointment certainly has people talking.
“And sometimes, that's the most important part,” she said, “just for people to be talking.”
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