Debate has been blowing up over the New Yahoo! (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer, who took an even shorter maternity leave than the already truncated one she announced back in July. An inner office email has been circulating around my agency in regards to her extreme leave and the responses are definitely impassioned. The biggest response that caught my eye is “Why do we care? Let her do what she wants.” But it’s not that easy. Read below to find out why.
It’s not about what is right or wrong when it comes to maternity leave. Those decisions are deeply, intensely personal ones that depend on a variety of factors such as family composition, household income, job requirements etcetera. I think that’s why a lot of these responses are getting so personal and a little heated.
But what’s really at stake here is our ability to be able to make these decisions about our maternity leave. The reason we care about how amazingly short Mayer’s maternity leave was is because she has, in effect, set a standard that many women can’t or don’t feel comfortable measuring up to. Because of her high profile career, her personal decision to take a short maternity has a halo effect on the rest of women. I don’t think anyone could argue against the fact that corporations routinely jump on any piece of evidence that can help build a case to limit women’s access to distinctly female necessities (i.e. nursing rooms, affordable contraception, reduced copays for gynecological exams, etc.) I can easily see businesses using Mayer’s maternity leave as a precedence for shortening the already short and minimally compensated maternity leave.
For some women, like Mayer, who can afford daycares and nurses or who maybe have some sort of nursery option made available to them by their employer, this would not be a big problem. But for those women who can’t afford those expenses or don’t have access to those resources, even a few weeks of shortened maternity leave or compensation could create unnecessary hardship during such a crucial time in a woman’s life. This isn’t even taking into account the developmental needs of the infant, which can be debated. And it doesn’t begin to shed light on the pressures that new and expectant moms face to measure up to already impossible standards of new motherhood (think how quickly celebrities loose baby weight or the great breast feeding debate). As for the role of paternity leave, I applaud those fathers who are able to take the time off to bond with their infants. But paternity leave is a different battle. What we’re discussing here is a precedent that could, in effect, have a massively detrimental effect on a lot of women.
And that, my lovely ladies, is why we care.
Is it messed up that her decision has this effect? Yes, it is. But as a woman in the spotlight, she has taken on that responsibility. What could she have done better? I don’t know. Maybe she could have issued a public statement? I mean, I don’t want her to have to defend her decision. She had her reasons. But if she accepts the role that she is in and fully owns it, she might be able to make a positive change for women… and help put an end to all of us bickering! In my opinion.