This morning, Yahoo CEO and mom of one, Marissa Mayer announced that she is expecting identical twin girls in December. Taking to Tumblr, Mayer shared the happy news and detailed her maternity leave plan — unfortunately reigniting the conversation around “how soon is too soon to return to work?” She said:
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. I’ve shared the news and my plans with Yahoo’s Board of Directors and my executive team, and they are incredibly supportive and happy for me. I want to thank them for all of their encouragement as well as their offers of help and continued support.
Mayer, 40, was pregnant when she joined Yahoo as CEO in July 2012 and gave birth to a baby boy later that year. She worked from home after the birth and came back to the office just two weeks later. Her approach to motherhood sparked a debate about whether her example would help or hurt the cause of women in the workplace.
I don’t get it. This is a woman’s personal parenting choice and yet so many of us who proclaim it’s a woman’s right to choose whatever parenting path best fits her situation (whether that’s as a full-time working parent, part-time working parent, stay-at-home parent, etc.) are harshly judging Mayer. Millions of us make vastly different decisions when it comes to parenting so why must Mayer be held to a different standard? Because she’s a CEO? That title alone does not mean she represents working women everywhere.
Though you may argue her choice sets a tough precedent for other Yahoo employees, Mayer obviously realizes women (and men!) need options because she implemented Yahoo’s generous parental leave policy in 2013. As part of this policy, mothers can take 16 weeks of paid leave with benefits, and fathers can take up to eight weeks, each time they have a new child born via childbirth. Both parents receive eight weeks of paid leave for new children via adoption, foster child placement, or surrogacy.
While acknowledging that we should stand by Mayer’s quest for equality, Babble blogger Sunny Chanel noted at the time that she felt Mayer wasn’t making the best maternal choices. Chanel argued that Mayer wasn’t “giving her body the time it needs to recover” and that she was missing out on “that initial bonding with her baby that is so important.” And a Tumblr response to Mayer’s announcement read:
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, if this is what she wants, go for it. On the other, I don’t see male execs having to make these explanations and I worry that any female in a leadership position feels that she has to give up those precious first few months in order to appear as if she is still “in control” of her job. You can’t be a nurturer AND a leader. That is the message that I am getting, as a woman in a business field.
This is the kind of judgmental rhetoric that doesn’t help any woman considering her maternal leave options, if she’s lucky enough to have them. It sets up a baby bonding recovery standard that will only cause guilt for women who are already navigating difficult parenting choices. When and how a woman bonds with her children or when she feels capable of working is no one’s business but her own. It’s not for anyone to judge whether or not Mayer is “giving up” anything by returning to work when she chooses. Furthermore, if a male CEO of a Fortune 500 company had to take a couple weeks off work for a medical-related reason, you can bet stakeholders and employees would expect an explanation detailing the duration of his absence — and it would be up to him (and his doctors) to decide when to return to work.
In contrast, Babble writer Meagan Francis offered a far more practical and supportive response to Mayer’s choice to limit maternity leave by sharing her own story of returning to work within hours of giving birth:
“The truth was that while I spent plenty of time counting tiny toes and kissing chubby cheeks, I felt a lot happier, more energized, and calmer when I kept a toe in my career. Blending work and a newborn has always felt natural to me; as natural, in fact, as breastfeeding. For one thing, babies sleep a lot in those first weeks, and after a while, staring at even the most adorable sleeping baby gets boring. When given the choice between writing and watching daytime TV, writing wins, hands-down.”
Marissa Mayer is but one of millions of women choosing a similar approach in the wake of childbirth and Mayer readily acknowledges the challenges:
“I’m blessed to have experienced some of my most extraordinary and proudest personal moments while being Yahoo’s CEO. Moving forward, there will be a lot to do for both my family and for Yahoo; both will require hard work and thoughtful prioritization. However, 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.”
Congratulations, Marissa! You’re an inspiration to all working mothers aspiring to excel in the workforce while also choosing to start a family and raise children. As I well know, three little ones at home while working full-time is no easy feat, that’s for sure.
Fun fact: Mayer says the twins were a huge surprise because she has no family history of twins or any other predisposing factors. Twins occur by random chance in roughly 1 out of approximately every 300 pregnancies. Mayer says she and her husband, Zack Bogue, are excited about the new additions to their family.