I’ve been noodling the Marissa Mayer issue for a few months. It is not an easy topic. In one respect I am empowered by her being named CEO of Yahoo! PARTICULARLY because she landed the job not just as a woman, but as a pregnant woman. That is GREAT for women.
However, when she was appointed, the fact that she (or her handlers) immediately felt the need to state her maternity plans (not take much) really sat wrong with me. But again, I noodled…I discussed with co-workers and friends, contacts both in and out of Yahoo!. What did this mean for women, for women in the workplace, for the example to young women contemplating if they can ‘have it all,’ and at what price?
And then last week, I saw the cover of Fortune magazine and heard the debate over the photo that was used: a very NOT pregnant Marissa Mayer. That actually doesn’t bother me. That Ms. Mayer does not want to be the poster child for pregnant executives, that she does not want a cover photo of her pregnant self on an international magazine, I can fully accept. She is not a pregnant CEO – she is a CEO who happened to have had a baby just this week.
And that is where I am again bothered. The discussion, along with the magazine cover, was that she would be returning to work in 1-2 weeks’ time. Really? What kind of message does that send? I believe women CAN have it all – maybe not at 100%, but certainly at a level that can exceed expectations. However, they need to do it AS women and not as women trying to fill a man’s shoes.
Men tend to return to work after 1-2 weeks paternity leave, but they did not deliver a baby. Their bodies have not been through the wringer. I want women to know and believe that they do not have to cut short a leave that is in the best interest of their personal well-being and that of their newborn. I fear the feedback that comes on the heels of the decision of the CEO of Yahoo!: well why do YOU need that much time off if the head of a Fortune 500 company can bounce back so quickly? Why can’t all women come right back to work?
Let me be clear, I don’t question Ms. Mayer’s parenting choices. Only she can be responsible for the choices and sacrifices she makes. However, the fact is that no one remembers the first 1-2 weeks after they have given birth. Your body is recovering, your emotions are out of whack, and your responsibilities have completely changed and that alone should buy you the privilege to stay home and heal. I don’t care how much money and help you have – you are not your best self. But more importantly, those days with your child are irreplaceable. The best help in the world cannot facilitate the bond between a newborn and their mother. Nations around the world recognize this and offer months, even up to a year with a child for a new mother – without penalty.
I do question what this example has done for the next generation of women that want to be powerful in the workplace and also great moms. I’ll continue to noodle…