Marissa Mayer Talks Motherhood, Wage Equality With Jennifer Siebel Newsom

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Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Marissa Mayer
Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Marissa Mayer

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Last week The Representation Project, Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s non-profit organization that is based in Marin, hosted a breakfast conversation with Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer. The event was at the Marin Art and Garden Center and featured a fascinating conversation between the two beautiful blondes. The Representation Project’s goal is to create a world free of social injustices and gender stereotypes—they seek to represent everyone no matter their race, sex, religion, and background. Through documentary films, such as Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In, Siebel Newsom and her team are breaking down barriers and putting a spotlight on the narratives that limit boys and girls from reaching their full potential. At the breakfast, Siebel Newsom interviewed Mayer with questions that focused on being a working mother in a position of power. Mayer shared many interesting details from her pregnancy and early days of motherhood with the crowd, who enjoyed coffee, herb-crusted frittata, and fresh fruit with yogurt while listening to the chat.

Marissa Mayer and Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Marissa Mayer and Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Mayer explained her reasoning behind her short maternity leaves. She took two weeks off when her first child, son Macallister, was born in 2012, and only took off five days when her twins, daughters Marielle and Sylvana, were born in late 2015. “I was recruited to Yahoo when I was six months pregnant. I was sort of lucky that I didn’t show until very late and so I hadn’t really told anyone, so people didn’t know that I was six months pregnant when I was interviewing,” Mayer said. “I had been planning a pretty glorious six month maternity leave at Google. Google has really very friendly maternity policies, but that changed because Yahoo wasn’t in the state in 2012 where the CEO could take maternity leave, frankly at all. I sort of knew, based on my own observations, especially when I started at the company, that there was not going to be the opportunity to be gone for very long at all.” She converted a closet into a sound-proof room for baby Macallister and took him to work with her every morning.

Both women called for more empathy toward other moms and less judgement of how women approach their motherhood. “Everyone makes it work in a way that they need to. Everyone does it in their own way,” Mayer said. “I think there is too much judgment involved from other women and I think you have to have respect for everyone and the fact that they are going to do it their own way.” They also talked about how men need to step up and meet their wives more than half way. Mayer’s husband, Zachery Bogue, is a champion of the outdoors and is often bringing the kids on nature walks and other open air adventures.

The Representation Project team
The Representation Project team

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

One of the most riveting details that Mayer shared was her blindness to gender biases. She didn’t realize that she was the only girl in the math and science classes until her last year at Stanford when she had an epiphany while reading an article in the school newspaper about campus icons. The story “defined campus icons as people, that you might not know their names, but you know them by description. Like the guy with the sandwich board in White Plaza, that always yelled when you passed him,” she remembered. “I was reading through the list and kind of chuckling about it and he was like, ‘Oh, I know that one, I know that one, I know that one,’ and then there was literally a bullet point in there that said, the blonde woman in the upper division computer science classes. I thought, ‘I should totally know this.’ Oh my gosh, it was me. Up until I read that article, I had never realized that I was the only woman, or the only blonde. I guess I was not clueless, but I was 21, 22 years old before I realized that I was the only person of that description.” She believes that women should not focus on the separations, but instead simply get the job done.

The garden setting
The garden setting

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Another fun tidbit? A story from her early days at Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin respected Mayer’s opinion so much that they made sure to have a women interview every candidate that Google hired. Brin “did this interesting thing that helped Google I think, to this day,” Mayer said. “He said, ‘look, you might only wanna hire a lot of women into Google. But we want to hire men who are good at working with women. We want to make sure that every man coming in to Google, especially on the technical side, knows how to work with technical women. Doesn’t interrupt them, doesn’t talk over them, in terms of what we do, speak to them well.’ I think that really helped overall build a culture, in particular with Google. It was very welcoming not only of women, but of men who are really collaborative and respond to those gender lines.”

Anja Manuel, Zem Joaquin and Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Anja Manuel, Zem Joaquin and Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Other topics included wage equality, better computer science education, the internet’s sometimes negative portrayal of public figures, and how to ask for a promotion. Mayer says women should ask for raises, but in a way that is more about doing a better job than it is about getting more money. “To me it’s about what’s the work, how do you get there, how do you get to that next level, how do you get a bigger role. Ask what will it take for me to head up? What kind of time frame would you be looking at to make that decision?” Mayer said. “Did I ask that every week, of my boss? No, but did I have that conversation like, once or twice year? Yes. Everyone should be having a conversation once or twice a year that discusses how can they achieve their potential.”

The chat concluded with Siebel Newsom thanking her friend for being a “talented and courageous leader and a role model and inspiration to me and so many of us and to young girls.” Notable attendees in the crowd were Zem Joaquin, Sabrina Buell, Nate Ballard, and Anja Manuel.

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