The media is raving about the new pregnant Yahoo! CEO, calling her a pioneer for working moms everywhere. I’ll thank the media not to lump me into that broad category of working moms, that really should be broken down at least into two distinct groups: those who have to and those who want to work while raising children. Don’t worry, I’m not about to start judging the want to camp. I believe that every woman who has a choice when it comes to working motherhood is certainly entitled to it. But I’m equally unlikely to be jumping on the bandwagon with women chanting victory for Ms. Mayer’s triumphant new role, dubbed ‘the pregnant CEO.’
As a woman who was once laid off from a job for being pregnant, I think it’s fantastic that she has proven in a very public way that moms and moms-to-be are very employable, hard-working members of the workforce. That just because we’re mommies, doesn’t mean we can’t hold our own intellectually with our male peers, and our younger or childless and assumed to be more career-driven female peers. In fact, it’s always been my feeling that there is no worker more hungry than a woman [or a man, frankly] with mouths to feed. Unfortunately, Ms. Mayer, by publicly sharing her plan to take maternity leave but work throughout it, has also set working moms back. And at an estimated $300mm net worth, she is clearly in the ‘want to’ camp, which in and of itself is fine, but at what cost?
Though I believe in the fight to claim a mother’s rightful place in the workforce, all the way up to the most powerful boardrooms and political offices in the world, I don’t believe in doing so at the cost of precious time and energy for those formative and magical first years of parenting. I pride myself on prioritizing breast-feeding with bullish tenacity [going on 10 months and counting], and pushing back on overnight travel and needless after-hour work functions. And yet I still would give anything to have the time back to be with my children. Because to me, my choice to be a mother is the one that matters most, and whatever other aspirations I have in life can wait for that purpose to be fulfilled…indefinitely. And if money was no object, this blog wouldn’t exist because I’d have never known what it’s like to be a working mom, and would never have wanted to.
When I sent my proposal to my boss for a 4 month maternity leave last fall (half of it unpaid), I took a lot of crap for it. One of my employees was openly angry that I took more than the 6 weeks he thought I should, as if taking an adequate maternity leave to care for and bond with my new baby was bad behavior and somehow a personal affront to him [that he thought it was any of his business at all was infuriating btw]. And my boss requested meetings with me during my leave, against FMLA regulations, pressuring me to step up my commitment to my job, after I worked my ass off during my pregnancy to retain over $3mm in revenue for the company in less than 9 months. Am I saying that working moms shouldn’t be held to the same standard that their non-mom peers are held to? No. I’m saying that working moms are already held to a higher, harsher standard. We sacrifice more, work harder to compensate and compete, and are still punished for it. And it’s thanks in part to women like Marissa Mayer, who make their choices publicly, and unwittingly make it harder for us to make and live with ours.
Marissa Mayer has a reputation as a workaholic, no doubt an unfairly harsh media-driven criticism of a woman who is simply an overachiever who needs very little sleep – this will bode well for night time feedings, assuming she doesn’t give up on breastfeeding like so many working mothers. One would assume she will bring the same doggedness to her role as a mother that she has as an engineer and executive, but I will be very curious to see whether she will successfully prioritize and balance her roles as CEO and mother. Will those priorities make way when the oxytocin courses through her veins on the delivery table? When she looks deeply into the eyes of that new life she has created? Will she cram pumping sessions in between board meetings? Take the corporate jet home in the middle of the night to a sick child? I’m sure the Yahoo! board is wondering also, poised and ready to consume her when her maternal side starts, embarrassingly, to show.
In the meantime, working mothers across America will be sweating bullets as they prepare to confess to their bosses that they’re pregnant, and God forbid, ask for more than a laughable 2 week maternity leave. Personally, I’d never work for a company whose highest-ranking female set such an example, or carelessly, an expectation, for its female staff. It’s hard enough to be a working mom. Hell, it’s hard enough to be a mom. And sadly, this ‘victory’ is really a setback, as it sends the message to a workforce full of mothers who already have an unrealistic expectation of themselves, who increasingly bear the burden of being the breadwinners and still expect to master the illusion of the Pinterest Mom, that it’s not enough. That the mom who works all day, stays up all night, gets her powerpoint presentation and her son’s birthday cake finished in time, is no longer good enough. Maybe it’s not wrong, but to me, it’s definitely sad.