Closing The Gap

Why Marissa Mayer fears #MeToo may discourage women from pursuing leadership positions

Yahoo's chief executive, Marissa Mayer, speaks at the 2014 Cannes Lions in June in Cannes, France.
Didier Baverel | Getty Images

Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is concerned about the impact she feels the #MeToo movement could be having on the next generation of female leaders.

In her first interview since leaving her role last year, Mayer tells The New York Times that while discussions around sexual harassment and workplace misconduct are important, she worries they will discourage some women from pursuing top jobs.

"What we don't want to do is dissuade that next set of leaders, entrepreneurs, executives from even entering the field," she says. "I don't want us 15 years from now to turn around and be like, "Wait, how come there's so few women V.P.s at all these companies? Oh, right, it's because in the summer of 2018, there was all this happening and it caused people to make wildly different career decisions."

Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer.
Getty Images

As one of very few female leaders in Silicon Valley, Mayer knows that tech is one of many professional fields that cannot afford to lose women in its talent pipeline.

Research shows that more than 30 percent of public tech companies and nearly 74 percent of private tech companies have no women at all on their board. When looking at a larger picture of companies in the S&P 500 index, women hold just 25 percent of executive and senior level roles, 20 percent of board seats and just six percent of CEO titles.

In a Twitter thread last year, University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan shared his thoughts on sexual harassment in the workplace and explained how men benefit professionally from the issue. As an academic leader, he said he's seen first-hand how experiences around sexual misconduct have knocked women out of the running for certain jobs.

"If a woman has a bad experience in graduate school and decides not to become a professor, that is one less woman who applied to the same jobs I did, and that meant more room for me," he tells CNBC Make It. "All men have benefited from the reduced competition of women who have been dissuaded from certain careers or certain companies."

To ensure that women aren't discouraged from pursuing their professional goals, Kim Churches, CEO of American Association of University Women, says more companies need to make an effort to not only hire women, but to promote them.

"I'd say workplace managers and supervisors should be really looking themselves in the mirror to do everything they can to promote women in the workplace," she says. "A lot of these systematic things are linked to us not seeing enough women in leadership roles."

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