Yahoo CEO Mayer's "God" and "baby is easy" quotes go viralDecember 3, 2012: 2:34 PM ET
When I sat on stage with Mayer last Tuesday at Fortune's Most Powerful Women dinner in Palo Alto--for the first interview that the Yahoo (YHOO) CEO has done since taking the job in July--I had no clue that her comments would go viral.
"God, family and Yahoo" was Mayer's answer to my question about how she gets it all done--fixing Yahoo, transforming the culture, hiring new talent, caring for her newborn son…and more! Mayer said that she "ruthlessly" prioritizes and went on to explain that she grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Green Bay Packers. She cited Vince Lombardi's philosophy: "God, family, and the Green Bay Packers." Then she offered her own: "I think that for me, it's God, family and Yahoo—in that order."
Thus, Mayer endeared herself to Christian groups around the globe. Mayer is Lutheran, by the way. But the 37-year-old chief was waving the flag for the iconic football coach's credo, not so much flaunting her religion.
It was more than her "God" remark that drew attention to Mayer, who ranks No. 14 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list. Another comment during my interview with Mayer, "The baby's been easy," stirred up buzz and all-out controversy about whether a privileged mother such as she should admit so much. Lisa Belkin wrote "Dear Marissa Mayer: Please Stop Saying Your Baby is Easy" on the Huffington Post. My view? The more we talk about being a mom and a powerful leader (and how it can be done), the closer we can get to gender-balanced C-suites.
That said, a note of perspective: Mayer, whose first child Macallister was born September 30, said that her baby in particular, not motherhood in general, is easy—after "an easy, healthy" pregnancy.
She's lucky. In addition to her lawyer-turned-fund manager husband Zack, Mayer has more help than the rest of us. But let's not dis her for her advantages, which she's worked very hard to get. Last Thursday, after my Mayer interview (click here to see the full 30 minutes and here for a clip of a related piece on NBC's TODAY)), I had breakfast with Sheryl Sandberg. The Facebook COO has two young children and, like Mayer, plenty of help to get it all done. Sandberg is now gearing up for the launch of her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, next March. She welcomes Mayer, who used to work with her at Google (GOOG), as another role model for women who dare to be both moms and business leaders.
More power to them. Don't we need more Marissa Mayers and Sheryl Sandbergs to inspire young women to be CEOs someday?
Speaking of extraordinary women, I'm thrilled to announce that the 2013 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit will be held October 15-17 in Washington, D.C. The world's preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond, the Summit is by invitation only. Learn more about the Fortune MPW Summit here.