Commentary about high-powered female professionals is often dichotomous. Praise for their empowering mantras couples with eye rolls at their advantages and wealth. Applause for their efforts to break the mold meets with cries of privilege being the reason they're able to do so. This isn't a column to continue that dialogue; this is a chance to highlight their achievement while also drawing some lessons from their career that can be applied universally to anyone's professional path.
Upon becoming Google's 20th hire in 1999, Marissa Mayer also became the company's first female engineer. During her stint with the corporation she has had influence over the look and function of some of its best-known products, such as Google Maps, Google Earth and the Google Doodle. But Mayer probably made the most headlines of her career during last summer when she joined Yahoo and became that company's youngest CEO at age 37. Even more fodder: Mayer was pregnant at the time and announced her intention to return to work shortly after giving birth.
Career Lesson: Go against the grain. You probably already knew of the brouhaha regarding Mayer's abbreviated maternity leave or her edict to winnow telework privileges for Yahoo staff. What you might not know is in the nine months since Mayer was tapped as CEO, president and director, Yahoo has introduced a new email application for the iPad and Android tablets, as well as a new weather app for the iPhone.
The illustrious résumé of Meg Whitman, president and CEO of computer company Hewlett-Packard, includes time served as an executive with The Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks, Procter & Gamble and Hasbro. Prior to coming on board at Hewlett-Packard in 2011, Whitman was the CEO at eBay. She also ran in the California gubernatorial race of 2010, losing to Edmund "Jerry" Brown, Jr.
Career Lesson: Don't shy away from challenges. Whitman inherited a wounded company when she became CEO in 2011. The New York Times Bits blog notes, "H.P. is one of the world's biggest technology companies in terms of sales, but for years it has been marked with financial losses, bungled acquisitions and turbulence in the executive ranks and boardroom." Yet Whitman has promised the company will be in the black by 2014 as a result of expanding Hewlett-Packard's platform to include cloud computing and big data.