Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer, has been criticized after announcing she is taking as little as two weeks of maternity leave and will be “working throughout” when she gives birth to identical twins later this year – with some upset that her break will be so brief, and others that she even has to talk about it at all.
The tech company’s leader has been at the centre of discussion about working mothers ever since she was hired to turn around struggling Yahoo in 2012. Pregnant at the time, Mayer quickly announced she would be taking only a little time off. The announcement was followed soon after by a company edict banning working from home.
Mayer this week revealed via Tumblr (owned by Yahoo) that she and her husband are to give their son a set of sisters. “Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout,” she announced this week, with a link on Twitter.
When she had her son in September 2012, she took two weeks of paid maternity leave, a fraction of what the company allowed.
The company doubled maternity leave and now offers new mothers 16 weeks of paid time off. Fathers are offered eight weeks of paid paternity leave. Both parents can take eight weeks in the case of adoption, fostering or surrogacy.
Mayer added that she had shared the news with Yahoo’s board of directors and her executive team and “they are incredibly supportive and happy for me”. Yahoo’s stock price dipped following her announcement.
His recent announcement that his wife is expecting their first child was devoid of any details about time off.
But his and Mayer’s latest news comes at a time when the whole issue of parental leave and work-life balance is a subject of intense debate and a number of companies, most noticeably in the US technology sector, have announced they are extending paid and unpaid leave for mothers and fathers.
“Mayer’s announcement is disappointing,” said Anne Weisberg, senior vice-president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. “She’s a role model and I think she should take whatever Yahoo’s parental leave is – the mark of a great leader is that they have a strong team and don’t need to be there all the time themselves. And she’s having twins – just physically that’s a big deal.”
Weisberg pointed out that how corporate leaders handle the issue of parental leave is “hugely symbolic” for their own employees and, in the case of a female boss, women everywhere.
“She must know it’s not just a personal choice. I gave her a pass when she just arrived at Yahoo and then took little maternity leave, but now she does not have to prove herself as a CEO; the company is no longer in transition – but now people will read from this that if you want to be a leader you cannot do what your company even allows you to do, you’ve got to be there all the time and it’s work above everything else,” said Weisberg.
She said the institute will soon issue research findings that show men and women equally value a decent life outside of work.
“I think that now it takes more courage for leaders to point out that it’s not ‘either, or’ when it comes to commitments to parenthood and work. It’s possible for men and women to excel at both,” said Weisberg.
Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of advocacy group MomsRising, asked why Mayer should even have to discuss her plans or have them debated.
“When was the last time a male CEO was asked about how he would handle a new baby and his work? Men aren’t asked if taking a shorter time off will hurt the child. They don’t feel the need to justify themselves and explain their decisions,” she said.
Her group is busy campaigning for more parental leave, and Rowe-Finkbeiner lamented America’s lack of federally mandated paid maternity leave.
“We are the only developed country without it and that has to change,” she said.
She also pointed out that Mayer has more resources for childcare than most mothers in America after her maternity leave is over.
Technology companies appear to be leading the way with better parental leave policies than most. Microsoft, Accenture, Facebook and Netflix have all recently announced new policies on paid leave that are generous by US corporate standards.
But Brad Harrington, executive director at the Boston College Center for Work & Family, said Mayer’s choices should not be questioned.
“It’s her prerogative as chief executive. The good thing about being a CEO is that you get to issue edicts and let people know you are in charge. If you’re going to be gender neutral, then her behaviour is not that different from most male CEOs, who take a week or maybe two of paternity leave.”
He said he interpreted the style of her statement on Monday as a desire to send a strong signal that she is “just as tough, just as determined, just as focused” as any other CEO and that people should not make assumptions about what women want to do.
“And let’s not forget, only 4% of CEOs in the Fortune 1000 company rankings are women,” he said.
This article was written by Joanna Walters in New York, for theguardian.com on Thursday 3rd September 2015 04.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010