By Claire Ayles
Congratulations to Marissa Mayer and her family on the news that they have twin girls on the way. With a son already, Mayer proves that it is possible to be a mother whilst holding down one of the biggest jobs in corporate America.
The fact that she was born female means, whether she likes it or not, Mayer’s personal life come under particularly close scrutiny. Just look at the furore that followed the announcement that she plans to take just two weeks maternity leave following the upcoming birth of her babies.
This is her decision and I’m eager not to judge her (there’s been enough of that already). I’ve never met a working mother who doesn’t feels guilty about leaving her kids to go back to work and I doubt Mayer is any different. Bear in mind that she operates in what largely remains a man’s world (true of both the tech industry and investment firms so crucial to Yahoo’s success) and it’s perhaps not that surprising that she’s taking an amount of leave that sounds more ‘paternity’ than ‘maternity’.
But while Yahoo’s shareholders will feel rest-assured that it’ll be business as usual, do spare a thought for the women who work for her. After all, when the boss decides to take just a fortnight, will you be branded a slacker if you want to take longer?
An extremely competent and successful friend once told me that the worst boss she’d ever worked for was a female entrepreneur with kids who’d returned to work pretty much immediately after their births. Although she was never prevented from exercising her statutory rights as a parent, the company culture was such that my mate felt guilty every time she needed to take time off to settle her own children into school, take them to the doctors, etc. You know, the kind of stuff you really HAVE to do. She ended up leaving even though she liked her job, was good at it and was valued by her firm.
I’m sure Mayer is an utterly fair and decent boss who would never overtly pressurise any employee, but CEOs lead by example, and this is a pretty strong example. No one wants to be judged on the decisions they make about parenting, so let’s not judge her. But equally, let’s hope she and other people in her position won’t judge those working parents who decide to strike a different balance.