Marissa Mayer's Maternity Leave Matters
Why should we care about one woman's maternity leave? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's plan to work after birth sends a message
Within hours of the announcement that 37-year-old Marissa Mayer would take over as CEO of Yahoo, Mayer tweeted an exciting announcement of her own: she’s six months pregnant! We know she’s up for a challenge—Mayer was Google’s first female engineer, after all. But is she up for the challenge of juggling such a high stakes career move with impending motherhood? Her plans for maternity leave have sparked controversy and prompted that nagging question yet again: Can women really have it all?
While the world may not have known about Mayer’s pregnancy until this week (salient facts: she’s due in October, it’s her first, a boy), the newly-minted CEO told Fortune that she disclosed her pregnancy to Yahoo’s CEO search committee in late June. Big props to Yahoo—according to Mayer, none of the company’s directors voiced concern about hiring a pregnant chief executive. “They showed their evolved thinking,” says Mayer.
But then there is the matter of Mayer’s maternity leave. While six weeks of leave is typical—though not always paid—the mom-to-be predicts her leave will be a bit speedier. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she says. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”
A few weeks? She’ll work through it? Even moms cheering on Mayer’s rise in the male-dominated tech world are scratching their heads over this one.
“I almost did a spit-take when I read this,” says working mom Amy Dillard-Macon, of Nashua, New Hampshire. “I know she’s ambitious, but it’s basically impossible—mentally, emotionally, and physically—to go back to what sounds like a more than full-time job right after having a baby.” And, says Dillard-Macon, she thinks Mayer’s decision may be setting a bad precedent for other women.
But some moms believe Mayer is in the perfect position to balance career and family. “She’s CEO,” says mom-to-be Suzie Cooper of Colts, New Jersey. “When you have that kind of power, you get to dictate the rules. She wants to bring her baby to work and nurse at her desk? No problem. Teleconference from home? Set up a company daycare? Arrange her schedule around a pediatrician appointment? Done, done, and done,” says Cooper. “It’s brilliant!”
Despite the outcry, Samantha Ettus—author, host of “The Working Moms Lifestyle” radio show and blogger for ForbesWoman—points out that Mayer’s situation is not unique. An “abbreviated” maternity leave is the norm for most American women who either can’t afford unpaid leave or who aren’t eligible for leave in the first place.
Ettus’ advice for working moms facing a challenging career and brand-new baby? “It isn’t about work/life balance,” says Ettus. “It is about work-life management!” Ettus takes a cue from another high-powered Silicon Valley mom, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who recently “admitted” leaving work every day by 5:30 PM. “Even if you won’t be commuting, live your life by a ‘train’ schedule,” says Ettus. “Make it clear that you depart at XYZ time each day. When your employees know what to expect and your childcare provider knows what to expect, it is easier to run a happier home and a better work environment.”
Absolutely. But being home on time is just one piece of the puzzle for working moms.
As the first Fortune 500 tech company CEO to be pregnant, Mayer’s choices—about her business and her pregnancy—send a message. If Sandberg’s simple admission gave permission to countless working moms to go home for dinner—will Mayer’s approach make the fight for more generous maternity leave in the US harder? Does it set the bar too high for professional women who are pregnant—or who plan to be? Or is Mayer just offering anxious investors a reason to relax already? Maybe should we all just mind our business—and let Mayer run hers?
What do you think? Does one woman’s maternity leave matter to you?
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