I have been following with great interest the reaction to the news that Yahoo just named Marissa Mayer as their CEO. Mayer is young (37), female (now one of only 20 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies), and 6 months pregnant.
Most of the commentary I’ve read on her big break starts by acclaiming that this is a great thing. Yahoo is being super progressive! One giant step for womankind! Champagne all around!
But fairly quickly that celebratory tone dies down and the articles and posts move on to a different theme. Most of the comments seem to boil down to this: Mayer is being naïve in thinking that motherhood won’t change her ability, and maybe even desire, to do a stellar job at Yahoo. Since she is a first-time mom, she doesn’t know what’s coming her way and will eventually feel torn between wanting to rock the job and rock the cradle.
It strikes me once again how tightly our society today seems to hold the notion that all working moms are torn between their roles at work and at home. And that working motherhood is mostly suffering for both the mom and for the “poor kids” who never see her. But here’s what I know: not every mom feels torn between her work and her family, and more time together does not necessarily mean better time together. In my role as a coach of working moms, I have talked to a lot of them who DO want more time with their kids, but I have also heard from many moms who don’t feel that way. They feel most satisfied, happy, and “whole” when they are working a big, huge, all-encompassing “rock star” job. And in their experience, for their families, having a mom who is energized and satisfied by her big time, and yes, demanding, job equates to a happier family life, even if they see their kids less. They also point to a lot of benefits they offer their children in the types of experiences and opportunities they can give them. So they are not torn or tortured by their choice to spend a lot of time working.
At the same time — here’s the kicker — you won’t hear many moms saying that out loud. To say that you love your job so much that you are OK with seeing less of your kids isn’t reinforced as “good mom” thoughts or behavior. However, for most dads, it’s just seen as par for the course if you want to reach the highest heights in your field.
In my experience the moms (and dads) who feel most torn are those who aren’t living in alignment with their values. Either they want to be working less but feel they can’t, or they want to work but feel like that would make them “bad” parents.
As for Marissa Mayer, I can only assume that she loves what she does. I don’t know a lot of people who were one day staring listlessly at their computer screen saying “this job sucks” and the next day being named CEO. She is no doubt thrilled to step up the challenge of trying to solve the many issues facing Yahoo right now. Isn’t it more likely that her energy and excitement will spill over into her family life than that she’ll fail at both the work and life sides of the work/life equation? Do you really get to be a CEO of a major company if you require a lot of sleep and “down time”?
In her recent Atlantic Monthly article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, Anne-Marie Slaughter caused a major reaction in the media and the blogosphere by reflecting upon whether or not women really can have it all. In my opinion, Ms. Slaughter was too narrow in her definition of what the “it” is in “having it all.” I believe that the surest path to work/life satisfaction is for each of us to define the “it” for ourselves — whether it be going for the corner office or off-ramping to care for kids — and make the hard choices necessary to live that life. The one that works for us. No matter what others say. Sounds to me like Marissa Mayer is living the life she wants.
And finally, as many other commenters have already said, I look forward to the day that the fact that a woman being hired to an important leadership position while pregnant is a non-news item. As one writer, Rebecca Traister, tweeted, “The intensity of reaction is slightly depressing. Kind of as if they’d hired a yeti.”
Here’s to young, female, child-bearing CEOs being more common than yetis!