Women let out a yippee! (or was it a "yahoo!"?) when Marissa Mayer, 37, was named CEO of Yahoo! Inc. on Monday. They cheered even louder when Mayer disclosed that she got the top job even though she's pregnant with her first child.
But then Mayer talked about her maternity leave plans, and some women stopped cheering. "My maternity leave will be a few weeks long, and I'll work throughout it," Mayer told Fortune.
All of a sudden, you could hear a gasp across the land. Some women were clearly disappointed (and disapproving) that she wasn't taking a bigger chunk of time off to make a statement about the importance of work/life balance.
Lisa Belkin in Huffington Post neatly captures that emotion:
Was your first reaction to cringe? How can Mayer set back the cause of women like that? The only woman to have a baby while running a major company, and she bats away the right for real and unencumbered time off—something new mothers need more of, not less? What sort of role model do we have here?
Though Belkin ultimately concludes that things will probably work out for Mayer because "life/work balance is easier at the top," other commentators sounded alarms. Kara Baskin at the Boston Globe writes that she ultimately felt "sad" for Mayer "because for all her success, she’s clearly unprepared for the reality of caring for a newborn. I can’t help but think that something is going to get short shrift from Mayer, whether she likes it or not."
And at The Wall Street Journal's The Juggle column, Angela Moore writes:
For Mayer, I think that at least initially, being a mom will take a backseat and running Yahoo will take priority. She will have no shortage of top-flight care for her baby son, and perhaps her husband might choose to stay at home. But one of the reasons we have kids is to spend time with them, right?
The poor woman! Mayer hasn't even had her baby yet, and there's already the subtext that she's a bad mother whose child will be raised by a slew of servants.
Sometimes, I think women are sending each other a confusing mishmash of messages. First, there's the "you-go-girl" message about women taking on high-powered jobs. Then, almost in the same breath, there's the "be-sure-to-brake-for-the-baby" message.
Isn't it time we get realistic that some jobs are just incredibly demanding and not suitable platforms for life/work balance? (I would count running a major company like Yahoo and being the head of policy for the State Department among them.) I mean, do you think it's really cool to take on the top job at a troubled company, then disappear for three or six months to do the earth-mother thing?
Look, I have no doubt that Mayer will experience some bumps as a new mother, and that whatever plan she has in mind now might change. But in the meantime, if we really want to see women in top positions, shouldn't we wish them the best and hope their plan succeeds?
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