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Jul 19 2012

Is the Pregnant Yahoo CEO Ruining it For the Rest of Us?

By at 2:50 pm

marissa mayer yahoo ceo maternity leaveWhat do Marissa Mayer and I have in common? Yes, she’s going to be Yahoo’s new CEO, and I’m not, so that’s one small way in which we are different. But we are both seven months pregnant–her with her first child, and me with my fourth. Mayer’s new job–and the timing overlap with her pregnancy/imminent maternity–has set talking heads’ tongues wagging.

Lately, though, Mayer is getting more advice than I am. Let’s assume that this isn’t because people are already well aware of my personal parenting prowess, and that instead, it’s rooted in the fact that Mayer taking up the helm of a financially troubled company would inherently draw speculation, pregnancy or no. But pregnancy not only tacks a barnacle on your belly–it also attracts speculation as to the kind of parent, worker, mother, and person you are going to be. Just think: all this and cankles, too!

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations (also pregnant with twins), wrote in The Atlantic that Mayer’s pregnancy being deemed a “nonissue” by Yahoo was a commendable sign of progress–and that people should “stop worrying” about Mayer’s ability to handle both new motherhood and her new job.

Lemmon decried CNBC’s Brian Sullivan, who had the temerity to say this on-air of Mayer’s plans to go back to work straight away after giving birth: “She said she’s going to work during the maternity leave. That’s gonna be tough. Y’know, take some time off. Yahoo’s been in trouble for years. My advice: take some time off. Get your baby. Raise the kid for a little bit, and then, work on the company when you can.”

Is that really so offensive? I think it sounds like sound advice–advice I wish I’d heeded when I went right back into the scrum of work six weeks after giving birth. Lemmon says it and all other unsolicited advice to mothers is offensive–and then unironically offers her own unsolicited advice that Mayer should not worry about it, because she herself went on a book tour immediately after giving birth and all went fine.

Mayer’s decision is private and personal, although put in the public spotlight due to her imminent new professional role. That being said, I’m not sure we–particularly as women and mothers–should be applauding our Brave New Workplace where women are finally allowed to “have it all,” do it all, AND “make things work” ASAP after having kids. Um…thanks?

Please read the following from Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

For startups founded by women, navigating pregnancy is already common practice. Pooja Sankar, the CEO of education-technology startup Piazza Technologies Inc. in Palo Alto, California, gave birth to a boy 16 days ago. She held a work-related call while still recovering from cesarean-section surgery.

Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite in San Francisco, answered work e-mails from her hospital bed when she had her first baby. With her second, born seven months ago, she has hired people and attended meetings while caring for her infant. Mayer’s appointment to Yahoo should help end the debate over whether women can handle childbirth and the challenges of a CEO job, Hartz said.

“She’s showing women that she’s going to do it and she thinks it’s going to work,” she said. “For Yahoo, it’s a great example of them having faith in a great talent. The fact that it was such a short search process means they didn’t really hesitate because of pregnancy.”

Let me get this straight: I’m supposed to applaud because women are now complicit in conveying the idea that pregnancy and giving birth doesn’t have to “interfere” with “business as usual”?

For me, a woman who makes work calls from her hospital bed immediately after giving birth is not a hero. It seems to me that the woman who does that is complicit in setting the bar even higher–and more unrealistically–for other women who may not have the resources or childcare financial capacity to jump right back into the workplace after getting out of the maternity ward stirrups.

It all goes back to that endless “having it all” debate. When will we realize that “having it all” is increasingly morphing, unpleasantly, into an assumption that anyone is capable of “doing it all”? Just think: with the advantages of modern technology, you can be plugged into a high-stress work call, cook dinner for your family, help your kids with homework AND breastfeed all at the same time! Doesn’t that sound AMAZING?

To me, it sounds like a one-way ticket to Klonopin.

I’d be much more impressed if Mayer had made some sort of statement that her decision was just that–her own decision–and that in the workplace she envisions, all parents will have the latitude and support to make the decisions that work best for them and their families.

Yahoo!

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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