Why can’t Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer take a real maternity leave?

Marissa Mayer, new head of Yahoo. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files
Marissa Mayer, new head of Yahoo. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files

Yahoo’s choice of Marissa Mayer as its new CEO broke the proverbial glass ceiling that prevented women from heading large companies while carrying a fetus in their womb. After Mayer tweeted this morning that she was expecting a baby boy, my fellow journalists have had a field day resurrecting a speech given in 1992 by Lawrence Perlman, then head of Ceridian Corporation, titled “A Pregnant CEO: In Whose Lifetime?’’, and crowing that it’s finally happened.

As Megan Garber, a staff writer at The Atlantic, wrote in a blog post this morning, “On the broader level, though — of the human family, of the public eye — Mayer’s pregnancy means something. How she handles it, publicly, will mean something.’’


Mayer promised when her first child arrives in October that she’s going to take just a few weeks of maternity leave, and she’ll “work throughout it.’’ That may be great for Yahoo shareholders, but how great will it be for her or her baby?

I’ve no doubt that Mayer will serve as a much needed role model for pregnant working women looking to rise into the highest echelons of the corporate world, but I worry that she might be sending the message, even if unintentionally, that maternity leave shouldn’t be in the cards for women in leadership positions.

Speaking from my own parenting experience, those first few months of motherhood are really tough — especially when both mom and baby are trying to figure out breastfeeding. (It’s a lot easier with child number two.)

I had the luxury of taking three paid months off from my job, and I’m not sure Mayer will really understand the reality of intense sleep deprivation until she’s having her own sleep interrupted three or four times a night for weeks on end. Of course, she does have the money to hire those exorbitantly expensive night nurses.

Sure, professional women often have to take shortened maternity leaves, like those completing medical residencies or law school. And there are plenty of women who can’t afford to take unpaid leave from jobs that offer no paid maternity time.


What’s sad, though, is the lack of recognition and respect given to female corporate bigwigs who unapologetically take maternity leave to completely immerse themselves in the world of caring for their new baby. Why can’t Mayer unplug from her job completely even for as little as two or three weeks — about the length of a long vacation?

Yahoo has gone through five chief executives in less than a year and somehow the company hasn’t gone kaput. Yes, Yahoo sent a strong feminist message by hiring a “pregnant CEO’’ but how reassuring would it be to pregnant women if the company also gave her the option of taking a real maternity leave when the time comes?

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