Marissa Mayer: One Step Forward for Female CEOs, Two Steps Back for Working Moms

Marissa Mayer, the brand-spanking new CEO of struggling Yahoo, is about to be a first-time mom. Many are commending Yahoo’s Board of Directors for their willingness to embrace a pregnant female as their new top dog. Women everywhere should be celebrating her summit to the top of the U.S.’s business food chain. It’s not every day that a soon-to-be mother is also running a major company.

But amid the press junkets surrounding the sunny haze of feminist glory, Mayer mentioned her commitment to working through her maternity leave, which “apologetically,” would be a few weeks long. WHAT the WHAT!? There are so many things wrong with this picture, but I’ll tackle a few of my favorites.

  • The U.S is already hopelessly behind nearly 178 other nations that guarantee paid leave for new mothers. The only safety net for new parents is the outdated Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which guarantees 12 weeks UNPAID leave for workers at companies with 50 or more employees. Nearly 50% of the American workforce does not meet the requirements for FMLA, thus rendering them unable to take maternity leave unless they have a “generous” employer.
  • Marissa Mayer is in a position of power to facilitate a discussion over the need for better maternity coverage. Unfortunately, she is leading by example, however it is not an example that will benefit mothers in the workplace. Women must already work harder and longer at most companies, especially if they are mothers, to prove their worth and value next to their male counterparts. Her willingness to work through her leave, as well as only take a couple of weeks, sets up a detrimental pattern of expectations for other working mothers.
  • Most importantly, this situation effectively demonstrates the conundrum many women face today: we captured our place in the workplace, but we cannot get out. 1970’s feminism set the precedent for two-income-earner households, making the stay-at-home mom (SAHM) a near anomaly. Money, debts, the economy, all drive the typical U.S. family’s financial decisions, and maternity leave or a parent staying home are often the casualties. Although Mayer can probably afford ample, quality childcare and household help to maintain her image as a powerful exec, the majority of us cannot. She had the opportunity to champion family rights and declare the importance of maternity leave, family bonding, and childcare, but chose to (and perhaps, unknowingly) support an outdated, male-centered approach to the workplace.

Ultimately, this is one woman making a personal decision about her family and job. And as much as I object to her stance, it is her right to do as she pleases. Only time will tell how the limited maternity leave will affect her family and perhaps even her job.

If maternity leave rights for parents are important to you, and you’re as steamed as I am, check out these resources for more information:

  1. Read: A report by the National Partnership for Women and Families
  2. Act: Sign this petition for better maternity coverage, sponsored by NPWF.

4 thoughts on “Marissa Mayer: One Step Forward for Female CEOs, Two Steps Back for Working Moms

  1. Kate, thanks for this post! I am due to return to work next week part-time after 10 weeks. I received 6 weeks of unpaid medical leave, and then was able to request a 30 day personal leave with no guarantee of my job when I return. Although I love what I do, I love being home with my newborn son most. It is a shame that after only 6 short weeks a time when women are often still bleeding from birth and not yet resuming sexual activity they are expected to be a full-time mom and employee like nothing ever happened.

    1. Thanks for commenting Molly! I agree, it is a shame that women are not afforded the opportunity to allow their bodies and minds to heal after childbirth, not to mention time to experience and enjoy mother-baby bonding. I hope that your work is supportive of your needs as a mother, and I’ll be thinking about you this week as you start.

  2. Such an important topic! It blows my mind that in many ways mainstream “feminism ” doesn’t validate our right to choose full-time mothering if we want to. It is as though Mayer told the world that Yahoo is a higher priority than her baby.

    1. The interesting thing about modern “feminism” is that a recent study found that most women who view themselves as feminist also tend toward Attachment Parenting principles. I’m hoping to write about it soon because it’s absolutely fascinating and contrary to what many would think.

      Thanks for sharing, and I agree, there is animosity and lack of support on both sides: being a working mom AND staying home.

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