On Monday, Yahoo appointed Marissa Mayer as its new CEO. Later that same day, Mayer announced on Twitter that she was pregnant. The internet promptly clutched its collective pearls and fell into a swoon. Won't someone think of the children?
Prior to her appointment as CEO of Yahoo, Mayer was Google’s first female engineer. She helped design the look and feel of the search page, Gmail, Google News, and Google Images. Her qualifications haven’t inspired much debate. Her pregnancy, on the other hand, ignited a firestorm of commentary, some of it considerably less evolved than Yahoo’s decision to give Mayer the top executive spot.
In particular, discussion has centered about her maternity leave, specifically its length and timing. Mayer is six months pregnant, and has opted to take a shortened leave, working throughout — a decision which will feel very familiar to many, generally less affluent, American workers, who often have to cobble together leave from sick time, vacation time, and family leave.
People who are concerned about Mayer’s decision seem to fall into the following camps:
1. Any maternity leave is bad for Yahoo, which needs all the help it can get. (In the past five years, Yahoo’s stock has declined 41 percent.)
2. Not enough maternity leave is bad for Mayer’s baby. (Presented without comment.)
3. By not taking a full twelve weeks, Marissa Mayer is doing a disservice to women, who will then have to hear, “But Marissa Mayer did it” every time they don’t want to jump on a conference call two weeks after giving birth.
Of these arguments, the most intriguing is No. 3., because it naturally invites us to wonder if it’s any one female executive’s job to “set a good example” for all working women by making certain choices. If Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave decision works for her and for her company, do we have the right to ask her to do something different? But on the other hand, if rich, successful women don’t insist on time off, can we plebes ever hope to?
If one thing is clear, it’s that there are no easy answers when it comes to balancing the personal and the professional.
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