Marissa Mayer and the CEO maternity leave

New Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, has been dubbed "The most powerful pregnant woman in America." Find out why this news matters.

Photo: Mrgadget3000/de.wikipedia

If you haven’t heard, struggling Internet giant Yahoo! (a statement used so often this week, it’s now a cliché) announced Marissa Mayer (formerly at Google) as its new CEO this week. Then hours later, Mayer, 37, announced she was six months pregnant and taking a very short (two weeks to be exact) maternity leave. Then the Internet exploded.

The concerns and arguments that immediately ensued ranged from:

  • She’s going to suck at the job, because how can she do both? (via Jezebel)
  • She should take a longer mat leave, because she’s setting a bad precedent for American women, who are still fighting for better maternity leave standards. (theStir.com)
  • She’s probably going to be fine because she’s at the top and it’s getting to the top that’s the hard part. (HuffPo)
  • Why are we even talking about this because she can clearly afford round-the-clock nannies? What about the struggles of working lower income women? (Jezebel)
  • Why are we even talking about this when we would never have this discussion about a male CEO about to become a father? (HollywoodLife)
  • Dumbest career move ever? Yahoo! is tanking anyway and she’s like the fifth CEO in five years. (Jezebel)
  • Stop the judging! She’s going to be awesome! (Salon.com)
  • Who cares? Can I go back to watching the Kardashians please?

Human beings, religious or not, are judgmental by nature. We just are. No matter how many times someone says, “It’s not for me to judge.” So, like me, you probably land somewhere on the spectrum of judgments above. Not that you asked, but here’s what I’m thinking. (What?! The whole internet is discussing this! I have to give my two cents! You wait until the comments below and I’ll read yours too, ‘k?)

A woman CEO is something worth celebrating. A woman CEO mom, maybe even a bit more so for me. Yahoo! knew she was pregnant and they didn’t discriminate! That is AMAZING! Shortly after I got my news alert on this topic, I tweeted:

Come on ladies! We worked hard for this! We don’t need to define ourselves as one OR the other. Someone has to take the lead, make mistakes, net some wins and teach our daughters and granddaughters from those mistakes and successes. Do you think boys are told to dream in small, limited visions of themselves as parents and employees?

Choice is the key here. We have more options than our mothers and grandmothers did. We should not lambast the life choices of others simply because we don’t think it suits our own ideals of motherhood.

We still have a long way to go. Not only in the States, where maternity leave expectations are so abysmal (the average American female gets 6-12 weeks), it’s created a ridiculous chasm between working moms and stay-at-home moms. In Canada, I feel we have a better respect for one another, thanks largely in part to the government’s support of our choosing to take a year off. Through the better part of that year of maternity leave, many of us know whether staying at home is for us, whether we have the financial ability to stay home should we choose to, and we know that all the choices are difficult.

But as last month’s “Why women still can’t have it all” debate proved, corporations — and society in general — still have a lot of room to improve when it comes to supporting families and the flexibility they need to succeed and thrive in today’s world.

New babies sleep, a lot. Just not when you want them to. Media maven Bonnie Fuller notoriously brought her babies to work while playing Editor-in-Chief at top magazines. In the early days of Today’s Parent, it was quite common to have people bring their babies to the office on days where they couldn’t work at home (or so I’m told).

I’m no CEO but I took a huge career leap when my daughter Lucy (now nearly five) was just eight months old, because the opportunity was the right one; one I couldn’t pass up. And I don’t regret that for a second. With an incredible work culture, I got to work from home and be with my baby for chunks of the day (and continue nursing), as long as I got my work done and was available between 10am and 4pm to field questions via phone or email. All the other work was done around her sleep schedule.

I couldn’t have done it without my huge support system, my village: my husband, parents, sister, in-laws and friends. CEOs can buy that village through nannies and night nurses and extended support. And sure, not everyone can, but should we punish those who are making a go of it just because the bulk of us cannot? That’s like hating Usain Bolt for being able to run fast and having a chance at an Olympic dream.

Look, I’m not saying my work-life situation was/is perfect, nor am I suggesting that Marissa Mayer or any working parent is going to have it easy or “have it all.” Mayer herself famously said, “There is no such thing as work-life balance.” What there is is a juggle. Sometimes the balls you have in the air stay up and sometimes you drop one (or two). That is true of any parent, working or at home.

If you’re providing a loving, stable home for a child, regardless of whether your village is outsourced, family or non-existent, regardless of whether you are home or at a job — let me assure you, you’re mom enough. Good luck Marissa Mayer. Do us proud.

1 Comment