Financial Times:July 18, 2012 8:36 pm
Marissa Mayer and the motherhood penalty
By April Dembosky
The reaction to Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy has been polite. Congratulations have followed the news that she will give birth to a baby boy in October, three months after taking the helm of Yahoo. Any criticism she may have anticipated from those doubting her ability to be a mother and a CEO at the same time, she staunched immediately with the pronouncement that she would take just a few weeks of maternity leave.
That, in turn, invited criticism from some who argued that such a short leave could set a bad example for other working women. Ms Mayer is in an impossible situation. However she manages her schedule, she will undoubtedly face the double standard that so many women of all levels of employment face, that they are either neglecting their jobs or neglecting their kids.
Whether she wants to or not, Ms Mayer will come to personify this dilemma. Her every work-life choice will be analysed and judged, whispered about at the water cooler or deconstructed on blogs. She will be asked to speak out, to be a role model for other women, even if she just wants to lead and turn round one of the biggest technology companies in the world.
While a complicated, intelligent debate is conducted over whether women can or cannot “have it all”, on their own terms, society has not yet come to terms with having mothers in charge of multibillion-dollar corporations. Including Ms Mayer, 19 Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Slightly more than half of them have children.
Last year, a Silicon Valley investor said: “A pregnant founder/CEO is going to fail her company.” As he contemplated an investment in a company run by a woman pregnant with twins, he thought: “How in the hell is this founder going to lead a team, build a company and change the world for these businesses carrying a kid around for the next few months and then caring for the kids after?”
In the broader business world, studies show that women encounter the worst discrimination around motherhood. One Stanford study gave participants two CVs for a management consultant. Both were for women and both were identical, except one listed membership in a Parent Teacher Association. Rated by participants, the woman with the child was 79 per cent less likely to be hired, 100 per cent less likely to be promoted and offered $11,000 less in salary.
Another study found that highly motivated women were perceived by managers to be so committed to work that they must be bad mothers, and that led to lower salary increases and fewer promotions.
Ms Mayer has overcome at least one of these biases, winning over the board of Yahoo, which lauded her vast experience and qualifications in appointing her as CEO. But her rise to executive level speaks to a related debate that has erupted among professional women, and two high-powered ones in particular.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, advises women to find a supportive partner who is willing to share the work and to maintain their sense of ambition, even if they are thinking of starting a family. She has told women it is OK to hire a nanny.
But Ms Sandberg was challenged on her views recently by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the US state department. What needed to change, according to Ms Slaughter, was the culture of the workplace: the idea that face-time and long hours, not efficiency, translated into good work.
A chorus of women in the blogosphere and on social media chimed in that both Ms Sandberg and Ms Slaughter had failed to address adequately the vast majority of working mothers whose careers do not yield the kind of salary that can afford a team of babysitters and had paid not enough attention to the role men play in the balancing act.
The debate is healthy and an important one for US society. But already Ms Mayer is being pushed to participate, to be a spokesperson for low-income working women, to set positive examples for other working mothers at Yahoo. And here she falls into another impossible situation, to be not only a good CEO and a good mother, but a good feminist, too. By virtue of being a pregnant CEO, she must take a stand on being a pregnant CEO, with critics waiting to pounce regardless of what opinion she expresses, even if, and especially if, she chooses to say nothing.
Nije lako biti dobra majka. Kako u Americi, tako i u Srbiji. Americkim trudnicama nedostaje Vreme, a nasim trudnicama Novac.
A Vreme je Novac.