Marissa Mayer: CEO-to-be, mom-to-be, and, one hopes, game-changer-to-be.


I really have respect for you ever since I heard you speak at GarageGeeks in June 2010. I was working for back then, in an office of 60 and a company of 90. It was a year since having my first child and I was lucky to be involved in a family-friendly company in a kid-friendly country. It was still an overwhelming time as a new mother in the workplace, but on a different level I definitely appreciated your drive and poise as a woman and a driver in hi-tech world.

So here’s where I’m going with this:

Before I went to bed last night, I read the news that you quit Google after 12 years to become the CEO of Yahoo. My first thought was, holy crap, way to disrupt! My second thought was, Yahoo? Aren’t you going to get a lot of shit for that? Then I thought, wow. Another female CEO, already so well-respected in hi-tech. This is going to be great.

Then I woke up to the news that you’re expecting, and due in October. As we say in Hebrew, b’sha’a tova! (meaning, all in the right time). And your new employer knew this when they considered you, and they took you on anyway. You’re the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Well done!

Surely, you must be SuperWoman: you’re 37 and a high-powered, well-respected, successful, gorgeous CEO of a company that no doubt reveres you as the messiah… and now you’re pregnant with your first son.

But I’m a bit troubled. In your exclusive interview with Fortune, you were quoted as saying:

As for maternity leave, Mayer… expects it to be speedy. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she says, referring to the CEO job that she is starting tomorrow. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”

I get it. You’re breaking through the ‘glass ceiling.’ You’re working it out so you can have it all. You’ll probably have a night nanny and excellent daycare and help while you’re on your few-week maternity leave. I’m guessing you won’t breastfeed or pump. Obviously these are your choices and your priorities.

I guess what I’d love to see – as a fellow working mama, one with a career, one who must constantly balance work and life, deadlines and children, ambition and love – I guess what I’m hoping is you’ll realize what kind of power you hold right now. The example you could set. The change you’re in a position to work for. Maybe not for yourself, since you have negotiation power… but for the rest of us.

Most women in the United States don’t have much choice when it comes to maternity leave and balancing children and workplace. There is no official, federally outlined, paid maternity leave set. I don’t know the laws covering discrimination against pregnant women, or who can be fired and how, but I do know it’s far from ideal over there.

Women should not have to be forced back to work within a couple weeks of giving birth. The physical toll is actually abusive, and the emotional toll is unfair and belittling of the importance of initial mother-baby bonding and emotional security for the infant. Not to mention the emotional state of the mother.

What about mothers who had traumatic births? Mothers with severe physical damage? Those who had c-sections?

And babies, who are considered to be living in a fourth trimester for the first three months. Why shouldn’t they be given their right to breastfeed from a willing mama? Feel the warmth and protection of the world their parents can give them? Why not set the stage for all babies across America – children of poor and wealthy mothers alike – to get off to a quality start? We talk, as a society, about the problems in our culture, the collective challenges of raising skilled, confident, loved kids. What better time to start fixing the brokenness of our American parenting culture than before high school, before grade school, before kindergarten – at birth? With proper attention paid to both baby and healing mother?

Ok, I strayed a bit. My point: I really hope that aside from serving as a role model for working women in your capacity as Yahoo CEO, you also find a place in your maternal heart to seek and encourage change with America’s broken maternity system. To open the discussion, as Sheryl Sandberg does. To encourage our male colleagues to consider our challenges. To use your position, standing over what is now the glass flooring, to show employers across the country what is possible for mothers in the workplace. To show your board that a healthy CEO with a positive family life is better for everyone.

It’s going to have to flow top-down. And Hollywood celebrities certainly fail us in this regard. Could our hi-tech sisters lead the way for a workplace-family balance revolution?

I do recognize this just may not be the kind of woman you are. You said yourself – you need to keep moving. I do hope you ease into motherhood as gracefully as you seem to do everything else, but it is not easy. For anyone. I hope you come to see the reality in that and do what is necessary for you and your baby.

And I hope somehow you come to realize the major flaws in the American maternity non-system, and decide to become not only a CEO and a mother… but a game-changer, too.


8 responses to “Marissa Mayer: CEO-to-be, mom-to-be, and, one hopes, game-changer-to-be.”

  1. Bayla Avatar

    brilliantly said Liz!

  2. Liz Avatar

    I do want to clarify and say that I managed to separate a lot of my initial mommy on mommy judgment about first timers who are pregnant and think they can do it all (I was that naive too). I’m trying to focus on – whether she has help or not, whether she can hack it beautifully or not (and hopefully she can), I do want her, as a prominent business personality, to find the time and a way to be part of the maternity-workplace discussion. And as a leader, take part in initiating a societal mindshift and cultural change.

  3. Aliza @ The Worthington Post Avatar

    I thought this was great, and appreciated your LACK of judgy attitude. You lay it straight on the line without shutting her down. Thanks for urging her to do what needs to be done without yelling at her for doing what she’s doing.

  4. […] the lives of working mothers in your company, and set a real example.  Like my new friend at Lizrael Update insightfully advocates, help her show the world that Corporate America thrives when its families do.  You can do it.  Be […]

  5. […] the lives of working mothers in your company, and set a real example.  Like my new friend at Lizrael Update insightfully advocates, help her show the world that Corporate America thrives when its families do.  You can do it.  Be […]

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