In defense of Marissa Mayer and woman managers everywhere…

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer can’t win for losing these days, it seems. She’s taken hits in the press for ending telecommuting at her company while building a private nursery next to her office, and more lately for deciding to review all new hires in the company.

Let me tell you something: If I were the CEO at a company that was tanking as severely as Yahoo, I’d be doing the exact same thing. In fact, I’d doing a lot more than that – as I’m sure Mayer is.

Of course, if I were the CEO of Yahoo, nobody would be writing about me and the heartless things I was doing to my employees. Why? The answer, I hope, is obvious: because I’m male, and it’s not news when male bosses piss workers off. It’s accepted, expected even. Dog bites man.

Let a woman do the same, though, and the best she can expect is for her management style to be called “unorthodox” by the Washington Post. (Exactly what is unorthodox about giving a failing organization a few swift kicks in the ass is beyond me.) What’s the worst she can expect? Well, if you’ve been following the story, you’ve already seen it.

How did this come to be? Some of it, of course, is good old-fashioned sexism. Some of it is same-sex sour grapes – many professional women have noted that some of the cruelest behavior toward women is inflicted by other women (Are you listening, Maureen Dowd?). And some of it is the backlash from promises women have made about how much different the world would be once they were in charge.

There is no doubt that women as a whole are superior at team play then men, no doubt that they operate better in groups, no doubt that they see workers more as individuals than as cogs in a big machine. This is all to the good, a boon to the workplace and fair enough.

But just because women possess these attributes doesn’t mean that the mere appointment of a woman to the top job will – or should — transform a company into a workers’ paradise. And especially not if the enterprise is failing, as Yahoo is. Sometimes the sicker a patient is, the stronger the medicine required – whether the physician is male or female.

In her new book, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes that part of the reason women aren’t getting ahead faster in corporate America is because too many want to be liked. It appears that this is not a problem for Marissa Mayer. And I say good for her.