Like the rest of the country, I was excited yesterday to hear that Google VP Marissa Mayer was jumping ship and heading over to Yahoo. Mayer accepted the position of CEO at the struggling search giant, making her the third Yahoo CEO of the year. If anyone could turn the company around, it should be the popular tech executive.
Of course, women everywhere were thrilled to hear that a female was taking the helm of one of the country’s largest companies. The title makes Mayer one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley. That excitement only seemed to double when Mayer announced that she’s expecting her first child. A well-known and high-profile woman taking on a new job and a new baby at the same time? A board of directors who was ready to turn their company over to a pregnant woman, without making condescending inquiries about controlling her hormones or taking a vacation right after starting? This is a miracle, right?
Well, forgive me if I’m a little less than ecstatic. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that the board of Yahoo didn’t discriminate against Mayer because of her pregnancy. It would actually have been illegal, but we all know that it doesn’t stop companies from doing so.
My real problem comes a little further along is Mayer’s announcement. In an interview with Fortune Magazine, Mayer says, “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.” Yup that’s right, I want to have another maternity leave debate.
Let me say, I can understand Mayer’s choice. I completely respect that the choice is her’s to make. If she wants to work through a non-existent maternity leave, she has absolutely every right. However, I can’t help but be nervous about the attention that this choice will get. I don’t like the idea that people will use this as ammunition to say that maternity leave isn’t necessary.
I had a three-week maternity leave. It wasn’t because I needed to get back to my job as CEO, it was because I was a broke, single mom and I needed to pay rent. A short maternity leave is tough. It was part of the reason that I had a hard time nursing, because I had to be away from my daughter too much in those first few weeks. My body hadn’t healed completely and I was intensely exhausted. Leaving my infant with someone when she was still so little was heart-breaking.
One of the best things that we could do for working mothers in this country is create a better parental leave system. A system where people don’t have to use their vacation days to have a child. A system where you don’t feel obligated to answer email and continue to work when you want to be bonding with your newborn.
For me, Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave announcement is a little like the models that hop back on the catwalk a week after giving birth. I’m happy for them that they’re able to accomplish such a feat, but it makes me worried about the expectations set for the rest of us. Having a baby is wonderful, but it’s also a medical procedure. There’s no telling how quickly a person’s body will heal. There’s no telling what kind of needs their newborn will have. Childbirth isn’t just a scheduled appointment to add to your planner. And while it may not be a big issue for Marissa Mayer, maternity leave is still something that women everywhere are fighting to guarantee for new mothers. I hope that one woman’s personal choice won’t undercut that fight.
(Photo: DA5/ WENN.com)