Marissa Mayer’s rise to the CEO position at Yahoo was all over the news yesterday. It would have been anyway, but she helped the story along by announcing that she’s pregnant and due in October. Female CEOs are rare, and so are CEOs in their 30s, so a pregnant CEO is a rare find indeed.

I think it’s kind of cool — and very forward thinking of the Yahoo board to take this in stride — but I’ve been kind of amazed at the fretting over how she will make this work, over the length of her maternity leave, etc. News flash: one can do many things while pregnant, and one can do many things as the mother of a young child. You can, for instance, govern the state of Alaska and then be nominated for the vice presidency. You can run pretty seriously during pregnancy (as Paula Radcliffe did) and then win the NYC Marathon 10 months after giving birth. You can govern the Hapsburg Empire as Maria Theresa did in the 1700s as she gave birth 16 times. Over at Twitter, FeMOMhist suggested a hashtag called #ThingsIDidWhilePG. I wrote both of my most recent full-length books while pregnant, and turned in edits of the manuscripts shortly after giving birth.

That experience gives me a few thoughts on the folks who have pondered publicly how she’ll handle maternity leave (and the multitude of people who want to judge her for planning to work through it). Guess what? You can answer emails and take phone calls as the mother of an infant. Your fingers still work. So, incidentally, does your brain. Most of the time. I will give you that it sometimes doesn’t work well if you’ve been up multiple times at night. But one glance at some great CEO follies of recent years (Ken Lay?) shows that you don’t have to be a pregnant or postpartum woman for your brain not to work well in business situations.

Actually, as Lisa Belkin noted in her HuffPo piece on the topic, being the CEO is a great job for a mom of small kids. You have control of your time. You make everyone else work on your schedule. Scrambling up the ladder? That might be harder. But running things? That you can totally do while #PG.

In other news: I have a column in Tuesday’s USA Today on innovative ways to prevent power outages.

18 thoughts on “#ThingsIDidWhilePG

  1. I agree this is a nonevent. She can afford all the help she needs- the challenge for most of us is not having a career and children, it’s affording the help you need. I will definitely save my sympathy for single mothers in low-wage jobs- night cashiers and CNA’s.

  2. The help issue is one issue, but the juggle is still difficult… do you — or she — really want hired helped doing your childcare.. even with money it is not that easy to find great help… who mirror the mother and in some cases the father.. and honestly a lot of women don’t find it worth it in our culture. Interestingly German and Japanese women (who have great maternity leave etc) do not find it
    The ideal is a sort of balance which may not be possible as head of an already established firm… but which entrepreneurship does seem to provide. What would this woman’s life look like if she were the boss OF HER OWN COMPANY… not undervalued by google and under pressure by yahoo..

    1. As boss of her own company, it’s unlikely she’d be worth $300 million or earn $16 million this year. I wish I were undervalued like that…

      1. I guess. but isn’t she already like very wealthy having been at Google ? somebody like that is not in it or the money b/c I think she is already loaded before she takes this job… which in itself says a lot of just the variety of women and human beings needs and expectations. to some women having it all means staying home and home schooling .. to this loaded already successful woman who could have sat quietly at google — it means turning up the dial at probably one of the most difficult ages to do so.. for her it means running a big company and probably showing google board that they made a mistake not making her boss over there… or the challenge of turning it all around.. but the first time her baby– they are sick, or fall down or want to breastfeed… the I-am-just-like-a-man thing does kind of go out the window. we are better than men (b/c we can pretty much do everything they can do and also be primary parent, labor etc all that good stuff that even if they are 50 50 parent they can’t really ever get)and the world is still not really better for us for it, and not sure if she has helped or hurt arguments either way to that end… and if she is that good.. she should have tried maybe to build something herself… really 5 million 16 million at that point I just don’t think the yahoo thing is about the money.. but if she is happy it is better she is out there for women probably than if she didn’t even try. at least she is trying to have it all. it is always funny though also how we think about kids before we are moms and how you are changed after.

    2. I think some of the issues with Japan and Germany are cultural – it’s expected that mothers of infants/small children will not go back to work, so there’s huge societal pressure to go with this.

    3. I just gotta say, my husband is an entrepreneur who started and runs his own company and I can tell you without a doubt that this woman’s work load would go through the roof it the company were her own. Now, 20 years from now it would be a different story but starting your own business is like giving birth to an entire family.

    4. It is true that no matter how much help you have, there’s still a juggle. We have a full time nanny, but I was still the one at the pediatrician for an hour today with my daughter (just a check up). Though many female CEOs and high-level executives have husbands that handle those sort of parental duties.

      1. Laura – that’s a good point, actually (husband help) which makes a HUGE difference and it’s something I’ve noticed with a lot of the higher up women where I work.

        I was so not going to write about this whole thing, but can’t help it 🙂 I don’t take issue with Mayer herself, but more with all the “rah rah, so great for women” stuff surrounding her appointment”, which I’ve also seen at work, not surprisingly.


        1. @ARC – attempted to post on your blog but not sure it went through. Different people need/want different things. 9 months would be right for you, but since I work at home, it wouldn’t have been right for me. I’m sure Mayer will do what’s right for her.

  3. I don’t for a minute wonder how she’ll handle it, because she will do just fine.

    What irks me is how a lot of places are holding her up as a “great example” and a huge step forward.

    Personally, I think her statements about working through her mat leave are pretty damaging and set bad expectations for everyone else in our workaholic culture.

    I mean, if the CEO can come back to work in 3 weeks or whatnot, why should everyone else have the “luxury” of 12 weeks off? (Which, IMO is still not nearly enough.)

    1. Yes. Setting a bad precedent by announcing that she’ll be coming back in 3 weeks, and also setting up potentially unmeetable expectations, should she have a difficult delivery/sick baby/PPD/plain-old-hard-time of it all. She should’ve said she was taking her full maternity leave (the best would be to take the amount that is offered to the employees in her company). Then she can keep in touch via emails/phone calls whenever she was ready but not have given the impression that she was ready to leave a 3 week old baby and dragging her leaky boobs & barely healed you-know-what into the boardroom.

  4. Things I did while pregnant- taught Jr. High school, wrote a book, kayaked and hiked in Kauai while the twenty-something guy in the group bitched the whole way. Where? I say where are the news reports about me?! Boo, feeling very neglected.

    That’s it, I’m signing out so I can find a multi-million dollar job and then they can write news bulletins praising me for not choking my subordinates when I have PMS.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this post. I wrote my prospectus while pregnant with my fifth child, passed my prelim in my 39th week, and set to work analyzing data at 2 weeks postpartum. I was worried about being one of the PhD students who gets to candidacy and then stalls out, so I was determined to make the most of that quiet newborn period.

    But I made a mistake in my coding that cost me hours of work six months down the line, and I have to wonder whether I would have made the same error if I’d given myself another two weeks off. I also think back to my first couple of births, when I was just not prepared for the difficulty of the postpartum period (emotional stuff the first time, tough physical recovery due to a hemorrhage with the second). No matter how much of a staff a person has, giving birth is a big event.

    1. @Jamie – it’s hard to know if you’d make the same coding error. Maybe more time off would have made you make other mistakes. Who knows?

  6. I’d love to participate in the hastag, but I can’t think of anything particularly impressive I did while pregnant. Just worked.

    I just posted my rant on this topic. I think we should all lay off Mayer and think- honestly- about what her choices really were. Pass on the job? Freak out the investors by saying she doesn’t know what she’ll do once she’s a mom? Go out on a long leave within months of starting a really challenging job? Or do exactly what she’s doing?

    1. @Cloud- I think freaking out investors would have been a problem. Different things work for different people. And as someone who never took a traditional maternity leave myself, I take issue with the “oh, she has no idea” comments. I agree that more maternity leave should be available. But that doesn’t mean any individual woman should *have* to take it.

      1. Also there is no evidence that maternity leave empowers women economically or in their careers… and it would be great to see more about this. Germany has some of the best maternity leave in the world and their middle class and professional women have some of the lowest rates of working outside the home after having children. Which is very sad as far as I am concerned. So socialism in their case has not benefited women and mothers as you would think it would.
        Flexibility – work from home – conference call with investors in your pajamas in M’s case — there are things but I am not sure maternity leave is the one.. I used to think that but I never really took maternity leave and I am still breastfeeding my 2 year old or almost two year old…(but I am an entrepreneur and I work from home, no shower and no commute on days I don’t have to meet w clients) so clearly maternity leave wasn’t necessary for me to stay connected to my kid. and work a lot. but maternity leave is representative of something else in our culture which is more subtly repressive of women… and that might be worth talking about…

  7. I think the problem if women not taking their maternity leave is that it stigmatizes those who don’t want to work during that precious time. I remember reading an article about leave in Norway. I believe they somehow made it mandatory to take paternal leave, which had been available, which then lessen the stigma for women to take their leave since both sexes now took it. I understand that many many women can work but many more don’t have the support, nor sleep, have a difficult child or just value that time at home.

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