Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

A Dilemma for Women

By Leah Smiley


I love Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. I think she embodies power, prestige, and position. She has challenged common reasoning in the IT industry in everything from the role of women to the dress code to work-at-home policies. She has also been a powerful force in the recognition of young female executives.

Yet, the recent photo shoot with Vogue Magazine presents a conundrum. As I scrolled down to look at reader comments in an article about the photo shoot, many people questioned her decision-making abilities. What’s different from previous criticisms is that this particular photo shoot seemed to take a notch out of her belt by focusing on her beauty vs. her brains.

As more organizations look to women to serve in more non-traditional positions, such as CEO’s, board members, and other executive roles, women are forced to walk that fine line. While one’s appearance can make or break one’s workplace potential, the focus must continue to be on diverse intellectual contributions, innovation, inclusion, and high performance.

This presents a dilemma for women, as pervasive stereotypes function as a glass ceiling and some gender roles are preserved in stone. How can we change this dilemma for women?

(1) We need more Marissa Mayer’s to serve as CEO’s and board members. Therefore, fascination with female executives will not be left on the shoulders of one smart lady, but spread among the many talented women in business today. Mary-Frances Winters, CEO of the Winters Group, has been doing a series on sponsorship for multicultural women over the last few weeks. This is a great place to start.

(2) We must continue to promote women’s rights and interests. For example, if a male executive loved automobiles and was featured  in Car and Driver Magazine, it would not be very newsworthy. But a female executive who loves fashion headlining in Vogue Magazine? This is unheard of!!! Again, we’re touching on issues of equality and diversity. The more education that we provide in this area, the less shocking it will become. It will also be more acceptable for females to be themselves– even in leadership positions.



Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto

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