Cooper says there are studies that show that when women and men go to funders with the same idea, women are less likely to get backing.
And with the timing of failures by Mayer and Holmes so close, some people do lump them together despite their very different career trajectories. If you read the comments below articles online, both women are the targets of stinging sexism.
A recent post on NPR's site said of Mayer's failure — "simply evidence that women cannot lead." A post on news comment site Reddit — called both women part of the "the feminist industrial complex" that promotes unqualified women.
Despite other successful CEOs in tech, as young, attractive, rising stars Mayer and Holmes became media darlings. Holmes was fashioned as a great female visionary of the tech world. Last year, Time magazine put her on the list of its 100 most influential people. Holmes' penchant for wearing black turtlenecks evoked comparisons to Steve Jobs, who also wore them.
Mayer became a symbol of a woman CEO who could juggle her job and giving birth to twins. She appeared on television shows talking about the experience.
Many female executives in the tech world still prefer to see Mayer as a role model.
"I think certainly Marissa going in as a CEO who was having a child has shown that you can do both of those things at once. And just having a woman be in that role is normalizing for the rest of us," says Natala Menezes, who has been an executive at Amazon, Microsoft and Google and is currently a general manager at the marketing and analytics firm Localytics.
Minnie Ingersoll, the chief operating officer and co-founder of Shift, a startup that helps people sell used cars online, likes to see women shoot for the stars. "One message for young women is that it's OK to take a big risk and to fail," she says. "I think there's something actually for me personally that I find almost inspiring in someone who is willing to take that risk."
But she doesn't think Mayer and Holmes have much in common. "Marissa and Elizabeth are both blond women. But other than that, I see what is going on in their careers very differently," Ingersoll says.
Though being young and blond may have something to do with the media's fascination with these women, there are others succeeding as leaders in tech. Ursula Burns runs Xerox. Meg Whitman now runs HP enterprise — and as the former CEO of eBay she helped turn the company into a giant of online commerce. Ginni Rometty is CEO of IBM.
Menezes and Ingersoll hope that their successes will make it easier for women to succeed and dream so big that they can afford to fail as often as men do.
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