Yesterday the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 tech company was announced. Her name is Marissa Mayer. She’s 37, blonde, the kind of fit and fab-looking girl we all probably lived next to in college.
Marissa is experiencing two of what are sure to be her life’s most mind-bending moments—the jackpot of all career boosts as the new head of Yahoo! and the birth of her first child—at exactly same time. She’ll be taking over one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious boardrooms while deciding between owls or robots for her son’s nursery. Soon she might find herself meeting some of her new employees (there are 13,300 of them!), and all of a sudden, a Jenna or Jonathan will seem worthy of inclusion on her list of potential baby names. There will be a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting on her nightstand, right next to a quarterly earnings report.
When you’re a working mom who struggles with the work-life balance every day, you can get pretty excited when another woman scores this big—on both fronts! But then I read an interview where she said, "My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I'll work throughout it."
My heart sank a little bit. I’m not sure of the specifics of Marissa’s circumstances, and I certainly don’t want to make assumptions about the reasons behind her choices. Truthfully, I don’t need to know any of it in order to respect her enormously. But from the outside looking in, hearing this news reminds me that we working moms still have a long way to go.
I know what I would be feeling if I was in her shoes: guilt—with a capital G. I’d feel an enormous responsibility to ensure I take the career opportunity offered to me and give it all I have, even if it means cutting short my maternity leave, or dipping into it to jump on a few conference calls, read a couple of reports, or attend a handful of meetings. While I should be toasting my kick-ass self and all the great blessings in my life, I would be worried that if I didn’t seem focused and on point to the same degree as my colleagues, it would hurt my chances of success.
Even when we’ve earned a huge amount of power, and it seems like we should be writing our own ticket, working moms still feel a painful pull between bowing down to the work gods and fulfilling our motherly roles the way we’d really like to, if truly given the chance. At a time when the debate over whether women can really have it all is back in the hot seat, I find it disheartening to think that a little baby with so much amazing DNA might miss his mom so soon—and she will surely miss him.
What do you think you would do in Marissa's shoes?