Marissa Mayer is finally getting the right kind of attention

(Laurent Gillieron/AP)
(Laurent Gillieron/AP)

Marissa Mayer has been going on a shopping spree.

In recent months, the Yahoo CEO has been scrutinized heavily for the Web properties she's been buying. First there was all the attention paid to Summly, the news summary site founded by a 17-year-old kid, for which Mayer reportedly paid $30 million. Then the Web went into a frenzy over the news last week that Mayer would be paying $1 billion to buy the popular blogging service Tumblr. And now, reports over the weekend say Mayer has bid for the online video service Hulu at $600 million to $800 million, with more expected deals on the way.

Tech watchers are split on whether or not her buying binge is a good thing. Buying Hulu is exactly the right move, some say. Others say adding Hulu is something her predecessor, Carol Bartz, would have done (and things didn't end so well for Bartz). Tumblr won't do much for Yahoo, some argue. It was a game-changing steal, others say.

Here's what I think: Finally. That's not necessarily a response to Mayer buying everything on the Internet. It's that finally, her mergers are bigger news than her baby. Finally, we're debating her strategy rather than whether she's setting back the clock on telecommuting. And finally, people are mulling over whether she's paying too much for her acquisitions instead of whether she's not taking enough maternity leave.

The intense attention Mayer received for her personal choices and her work-life policies are not surprising to anyone who understands the gender politics that female leaders face. The Post's Brigid Schulte examined this common double bind in an excellent recent piece that looked at why we pored over Mayer banning work-from-home policies but barely noticed when Best Buy's and Bank of America's male CEOs made similar moves. For female executives, "everything you do is hyper-scrutinized," one expert on gender issues said in the article.

There's little upside for Mayer to all that. Now that she's become her own Internet celebrity, even her business moves are being pored over with extraordinary detail, likely leaving any strategic mistakes—something every CEO will make eventually—more open to criticism and Internet infamy than they would for other less well-known CEOs. (How many corporate leaders' merger decisions share "hot on the Web" designations with Kristen Stewart gossip on BuzzFeed?)

I can't say that's a good thing. But at least all the focus is on Mayer's professional decisions, rather than her personal life.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Marissa Mayer is no enigma

Let’s give Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer a break

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor · May 28, 2013