Deborah Anderson-BialisDeborah Anderson-Bialis
Co-Founder at FertilityIQ
Why it’s Crazy for People to Pressure Marissa Mayer on Maternity Leave
December 14, 2015 • 15,468 Views • 349 Likes • 62 Comments
Marissa Mayer has had a pretty big week. She and Yahoo’s board announced plans to spin off its core business, and she gave birth to twin girls. There has obviously been substantial commentary on the business update, but there has also been plenty of ink spilled about her birth, and her decision to take a brief maternity leave. For example, the eloquently titled article in the Daily Beast “Marissa Mayer’s Two Week Maternity Leave is Bulls*t.” In my opinion, the world needs to accept that she is able to make her own personal choices on maternity leave, and drop the excessive judgment.
Reality Check: It’s Nearly Impossible for Mayer to Take Leave Right Now
It seems crazy to consider Mayer’s decision in a vacuum. To call Yahoo ‘unstable’ right now would be the understatement of the century. Executives at the company have been dropping like flies, and publications on the full spectrum from the LA Times to Vogue have been speculating over whether she’ll even be able to keep her job. More generously, the New York times declared that “Marissa Mayer has a Year to Fulfill Yahoo’s Potential.”
The comparisons between Mayer and Mark Zuckerberg’s choices of parental leave have abounded, though it’s a pretty comical comparison given the endless differences in the states of the two companies. I doubt Zuck is spending his paternity leave wondering if his job, or even his company, will be there when he gets back in two months (especially because we all know Sheryl’s got it covered).
But just imagine if Zuckerberg had become a father in 2012, when Facebook shares were valued around $18, not over $100 as they have been during his leave. Back then, people wondered whether Facebook would be able to come up with an effective mobile strategy. He essentially put everyone at the company on “lockdown” while this happened. I’m doubtful that he would have taken two months of paternity leave at the time, and even more doubtful that shareholders would have supported that decision.
Mayer was brought in as a turnaround CEO in a sector where successful turnarounds are unheard of. To say she should feel pressure to work less during this time is unreasonable. Sure, no pressure — just turn the company around, and do it without working for four months (the full maternity benefit offered to Yahoo employees). By the way, we’re all watching and we’ll be calling for your head if you fail.
I think this is perfectly captured by Jamie Dimon in his statement that “buying a house and buying a house on fire are two different things.” Mayer is trying to save a house that’s on fire, and ignoring that isn’t realistic.
But What About the Need for Female Role Models?
There is a time and a place to focus on what it means to be a good role model. I generally think about that as being an appropriate focus when everything else is in order — if her company had even a modicum of stability, she would have the luxury of considering this.
There are plenty of critics piling on that Mayer’s choice sets a bad example for women. But the best thing Mayer can do for aspiring career women is save her company from failure. Or, better yet, lead Yahoo to success. I should hope that her mark as a businesswoman would be measured by far more than how she handled maternity plans.
As a CEO, her core responsibility is to turn her company around, and I don’t blame her for prioritizing this over how it looks to other women.
Also, what would happen to society’s vision of maternity leave if Mayer very publicly fails or gets fired while she’s out or immediately after she returns? This might be more detrimental for young women to see as an example.
Is She Telling Female Employees Through her Actions That They Shouldn’t Take Leave?
I find the questions about employee perception equally misplaced. There are plenty of reasons I wouldn’t want to work at Yahoo. Namely, the place seems like a disaster at the moment. But I would hope employees would be more focused on their CEO fighting for their company to stay in existence than how it looks that she’s rushing out of the maternity ward.
One quote in Fast Company this week asked “If the most powerful person in the company doesn’t feel comfortable pausing for a rest after the birth of a child, how are less powerful “Yahooligans” viewed if they choose to take the full 12 weeks they’re entitled to?” First off, Mayer has actually doubled Yahoo’s paid maternity benefit during her tenure — the company now pays for 16 weeks maternity leave, and eight weeks paternity leave.
As an employee, I might be relieved that she “doesn’t feel comfortable pausing for a rest” right now. She’s fighting so this company, and the 11,000 jobs that go with it, stay afloat. This is a huge responsibility, and if she succeeds then I imagine children of those Yahooligans will be grateful that their parents can pay rent.
She’s Not Exactly Leaving her Newborns to Fend for Themselves
Everyone seems to disparage the fact that she has the financial resources to make this tenable. I certainly don’t (and I’m sure Mayer doesn’t) pretend that this ability applies to everyone. But it’s certainly a perk that applies to all top CEOs.
Everyone pictures the first weeks of motherhood as women who haven’t slept or showered, who would give their left arm for a 30-minute nap. Mayer can have full time child care, and even has the added luxury of being able to bring her children to work. If this is what she wants, and she thinks it will enable her to lead her company away from imminent disaster, fantastic! It’s pretty obvious that this setup isn’t meant to be a roadmap for employees working under her (though if anyone has gone to their boss to ask for an in-office nursery, you are a legend).
Why We Need to Back Off
Mayer’s choice to take a very short leave is just that: her choice. If a CEO of her stature is bending her leave to suit the attitudes of society, then what progress have we made as women?
Do I think all women should feel pressured to make their leaves as short as possible? Absolutely not! But it seems like classic mommy wars shaming to say that Mayer should feel obligated to take longer than she has chosen just so that she can appease the public.
I strongly believe that women who want to take several months off of work to care for their newborns should be supported in doing this. I just don’t think a single choice should be foisted onto everyone. As Stacey Bendet, CEO of Alice and Olivia, pointed out in a recent interview about her six day maternity leave, “why should we insist that all women have the same experience after they give birth?”
As a female founder of a tech company myself, I have given this a lot of thought. I have made choices that mean that I will not be able to take a traditional maternity leave, and I’m happy to have the flexibility to make that choice. Individual circumstances can’t be ignored — I know that early in my company’s existence, I couldn’t simply go offline for four months, or even two. It just wouldn’t be realistic to expect that things could keep going as I want them to.
Given all that Mayer has going on at Yahoo, she’s being judged for continuing to work, but the judgment would be tenfold if she decided to take a few months off right now.
Co-Founder at FertilityIQ
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Jason williams Add your comment
Daniel Grant Daniel Grant
IT Professional at Chamberlain College of Nursing
Given the new Facebook look & feel provided by LinkedIn, I think the only appropriate response is 😑
Like(1)Reply2 hours ago
LikersEdwin Caravaca Peralta
Michael DeKort Michael DeKort
She volunteered for that job. She has how many people, who have children and issues to deal with, who depend on her? Of course she should get some time. More if there are issues. And frankly more if Yahoo was doing fine. But it’s not. And much of that is on her. She is now responsible for much more than her immediate family. She signed up to have a corporate on e as well.
LikeReply2 hours ago