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Is Yahoo's New CEO a Bad Role Model for Women?

Vivia Chen

July 18, 2012

Marissa_Mayer_©WikipediaWomen 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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Comments

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In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Cleveland v. LaFleur that a *school teacher* ought not to be forced to resign her job when she *got* pregnant. Let's celebrate how far we have come.

Life is a series of trade offs. Each women must make the personal choice of how to handle these issues. Meyer is taking on a position which she wants and is highly qualified for. She is also getting compensated well and a buyout from Google. She will have this baby and not drop stride. Cudos to her. I am pround that she is able to have a child and take the job. Will she succeed at both, who knows. Point is it is her choice and that needs to be accepted and cheered by women everywhere.

Not everyone can afford her choices or the choice to stay at home. Also, some people actually CHOOSE not to have children and we are constantly bombarded with the Mommy Lawyer as the model for women in the law. One model doesn't fit all.

So, I support Meyer and her ability to make choices. I also support women who opt to devote time to family and those, like myself, who opt for no family at all.

Criticism does nothing to advance women and their role in society. We should stop judging others by the choices we make and support the fact that choices are available.

Obviously being CEO of a public company is (probably) a once in a lifetime opportunity that Mayer couldn't turn down, even with a baby on the way. I admit however that the first thing I thought when I saw the pregnancy headlines was: "hope it's her second child". When I read that it was her first, I gulped. She has NO IDEA how tired and stressed she will be for the first few MONTHS (not few weeks), even if she does not nurse or pump, or do overnight feedings. I hope she can pull off both CEO-hood and motherhood. But I am a bit sad for her that she will undoubtedly miss out on some of the most special time with her new baby. Perhaps she is too--but the sacrifice is hers to make. Rather than collectively extrapolate so much from one woman's very unique circumstances, perhaps we should do what would be done if an incoming male CEO was expecting his first child to be born imminently--treat it as a non-event.

Congratulations to Ms. Mayer! I hope she'll have many years to enjoy motherhood and trust she will allocate her time between work and family in a way she deems appropriate. That's an individual decision for each parent to make.

Taking a few weeks off is work/life balance.

Retiring after a baby doesn't include the work part of the balance; not that being a stay-at-home mother isn't work, but for purposes of the definition of "work/life balance," it doesn't count.

Taking only a few days off is not including the life part of the balance.

Finally, Yahoo! goes through so many CEOs, she'll probably be fired or quit before the kid is 18 months old, anyway.

Wake up ladies! It can be done and it is called something really simple.

Time Management.

Make your mind up women.
You either want two steps forward one step back or two steps forward while holding your baby, or any other additional aspect of life to your personal success.

It is absurd to discuss work/life balance and being the CEO of a huge monster like Yahoo. There is no such thing. Men don't enjoy much tiime off, nor do women who seek and attain those lofty positions.

Would it be nice to be able to take 3 months off and still run a company like Yahoo? Of course it would. It would also be nice to have Israel and the Arab nations solve their differenes over a game of Monopoly.

I'd say the odds of either happening are about equal.

How or what a mother and father do when they have a baby is a personal decision - so many factors come into play. Everyone deals with who works in their household, how much they work, what it means to one's career, and how to counter those who make endless judgements in their own way. Let's congratulate Melissa on her new job and extend best wishes to her and her family in anticipation of their baby.

I'm offended by the level of scrutiny applied to successful, professional women. Just because she has a vagina instead of a penis does not mean her actions affect or reflect the needs/ choices of all humans with vaginas. Leave her alone to live her life the way she wants. I am glad you defend her, but I do not believe this woman's choice should be considered conversation-worthy.

This is exactly the problem I had with Slaughter's article: you cannot equate being the CEO of Yahoo, or the head of foreign policy for the United States of America, with being a salaried corporate manager, or even a non-salaried law firm partner (or at least a partner who is not also sitting on for-profit and non-profit boards, being sought out as a true adviser to people in power, etc.). All this talk about "flexible work schedules" and employers needing to change their ways only apply up to a certain point. Being successful in one's career is not the same as wielding true power and influence. There are 2 different conversations going on here and they need to be separated. Women are making great strides in career success, as GCs, as law firm partners. True power and influence is a different thing, and different rules apply to people who aspire to them. "Working at home" is beside the point at that level. You can have a family and be a tax partner at Skadden. I'm not sure you can have a family life (or at least not the one Anne Marie Slaughter wanted) and be the CEO of Yahoo, or President of the United States.

It's wonderful and amazing that a 37 year old woman is now CEO of Yahoo, and she's pregnant. I look forward to seeing how she manages motherhood and CEO-hood. She may teach us all something about that juggle.

Honestly, when you are operating at that level, of course there is no work/life balance -- if she isn't willing to put her responsibilities as CEO first (as most, if not all, men in a similar role do), then she shouldn't have the job -- for all of us, men and women, at that level it has to be a choice as to which role you want to fulfill - that of parent or that of CEO.

Here, here. Leave Melissa alone to work it out. Isn't one of the goals of feminism to create options for women? It's not one size fits all. Some jobs are so demanding that work life balance is a myth, whether you're a man or a woman. I hope Yahoo has good work life policies for the rest of the company and I hope Melissa ultimately creates an atmosphere in which the policies are used by men and women alike.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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