It’s been almost three years since Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gave birth to her first child. She took two weeks off work post-delivery (and supposedly worked throughout her leave), annoyed parents everywhere by saying “The baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be,” and installed a nursery in her office while issuing a controversial policy banning Yahoo! employees from working from home. Her recent announcement of the impending birth of identical twin girls was met with a slew of congratulations as well as more than a few raised eyebrows; Mayer wrote that she plans to approach the pregnancy and delivery of her twins the same way as she did with her firstborn, stating, “Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout.”
This is a giant step backwards in the striving for a work/family life balance we so desperately need in the United States. A woman at the helm of a major corporation could set a tone or precedent to turn around the abysmal maternity leave policies in our country, but instead she’s vowing she’s not even going to take a break of any kind once her twins are born. Perhaps it’s because our career-obsessed culture would just as soon replace her with a woman who doesn’t have children to care for… or with a man who wouldn’t need to take any time off to give birth. Whatever her reasoning, this is a sad, very telling state of affairs.
Update: News Everyday reports that Yahoo stocks fell by 2% after Mayer announced her pregnancy with twins.
While I personally can’t imagine working through a very short maternity leave after having two babies at the same time, I also see Mayer’s approach as a missed opportunity. Many parental leave policies begin at the top: Richard Branson announced a generous parental leave policy for certain Virgin employees, emphasizing that he knew firsthand how important those first few months are in a parent and baby’s life. Blake Mycoskie of TOM’s shoes has also said that his own parental leave solidified his belief in the importance of a fair and paid leave policy (TOM’s offers 8 weeks of paid leave for all parents and a flexible schedule upon their return).
Mayer may be Yahoo’s CEO, but she is undoubtedly not the company’s only dedicated employee. If someone below her wanted to (gasp!) take a longer parental leave, would he or she be considered less committed and loyal? Mayer’s announcement included the sentiment, “I’m extremely energized by and dedicated to both my family and Yahoo! and will do all that is necessary and more to help both thrive.” With newborn twins, a three-year-old, and a company to run, she’ll need all that energy — I just wish that she would entertain the possibility that an actual, substantial parental leave is a viable option that doesn’t reflect on her devotion to her job.