Are we women really supposed to exult? Are we really expected to grovel in gratitude that a woman who is six months pregnant has been named CEO of what once at least was an iconic American company?
In your dreams! The appointment of Marissa Mayer as chief executive officer of Yahoo could have been a significant moment in the life of women at the top. It could have been a celebration of women in a field – technology – in which generally they’re given short shrift. And it could have been a celebration of motherhood, a rare occasion on which a woman soon to give birth was christened top dog.
But the moment was lost – a rare opportunity wasted. Instead of glorying in the duality of her duties, Mayer downplayed the one at the expense of the other. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she insisted on insisting. And then she added, as ingloriously as unnecessarily, “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”
By rushing to reassure that she would never ever slight her job in favor of her child, Mayer fell into a trap. Curiously it’s an antiquated trap, with which a woman like she should have been familiar. Why feel the need to make like a man? Why not embrace motherhood as distinguished from fatherhood? Men don’t carry and then deliver the baby! Men don’t lactate! Why then did Mayer not seize the day and claim the right to time off from work in the wake of the birth of her child? Why did she conform to the norm – leaders on call 24/7?
Let me put it this way: even if Mayer were bound and determined to return to work immediately after having had her baby, it’s not an example she should have set. She should have kept this information private, rather than making it public. Instead, by announcing out loud that she could do it all and have it all, simultaneously, she made it harder rather than easier for other women leaders, who might just prefer to do things differently.