First it was the fact that Marissa Mayer was pregnant and taking a job as a CEO. Then it was that she wasn’t taking maternity leave. Now it’s that she called her baby “easy.” Apparently the Huffington Post and others have been screeching their heads off about how you can’t call a baby easy. Because…oh I don’t know. We all have to be martyrs somehow. Likewise, I was speaking on a Bay Area Girl Geek panel recently where the question was asked whether, now that Mayer took no maternity leave, she’s ruined it for everyone.
I’m sorry, but if you wait for Marissa Mayer’s permission to decide how to balance your career and family, you’re pathetic. What does her reality have to do with yours?
I am so sick of women saying what Mayer should or shouldn’t do as the media-appointed most highly visible mom in tech. This is a woman who has barely talked about her child or pregnancy or spoken to the press much at all and was almost never even seen or photographed pregnant. She didn’t thrust herself into this role. She has done everything in her power to make this a non-issue. She has aggressively prioritized work and family keeping herself out of the limelight as much as possible.
It’s bad enough when male reporters try to opine on how weak or strong she might be as a result of giving birth. (Read Leigh Cowart’s excellent but graphic piece on this in NSFWCORP for some perspective, guys. The upshot: Pushing a human being through your body makes you anything but “weak.”)
But now women are attacking her, because she is doing what we all say we wish there was a strong female role model doing. That is just mental. Judging Mayer’s choices is bad enough, when we’re all supposed to be lifting one another up in this great struggle. But when women attack her choices, as if they have some bearing on how they raise their own children and juggle their own careers, it is embarrassing to the entire gender. Mayer is setting an admirable example that you can hire a pregnant woman to do a hard job. Women tearing down the ease with which she appears to be doing it are doing the opposite.
I pity both the children and employees of women who can’t demand what they want based on their own circumstances and needs, and instead turn to Marissa Mayer as some patron saint of working mom expectations.
I’m pregnant with my second child, and I feel no pressure to work immediately after giving birth, because Mayer did. I feel pressure, because I run a young company that my employees count on being there for years to come. I feel pressure, because of the mission of what we are trying to do is so important to me. I feel pressure, because I love doing my job.
But if I need the time off, I’ll take the time off. I’ve brought in two extraordinarily capable deputies in Keelin Linehan on the business side and Adam Penenberg on the editorial side who can handle the company for a week or so if that’s the case. If I need longer, I’ll take longer. If I don’t, I’ll come back to work rapidly. I may be checking my email in the hospital. I may be off the grid for 24 hours. Either way, we have contingencies in place to protect the company, while I do what’s right for my family in that crucial time.
That’s the only way women should approach this position: Address what your company needs and what your family needs, and if the two are at odds, figure out a solution so that they aren’t. Marissa Mayer’s life should have absolutely nothing to do with it.
For the record, I found raising a baby a lot easier than building a company, too. A lot of that had to do with us being lucky to get a pretty easy baby, and a lot had to do with running the company out of my house, so that I could toggle between the two easily. And I’m not afraid to say that a lot of that had to do with have a fantastic nanny, who has rapidly become one of my closest friends, a valued confidante, and a member of our family. I pay her the bulk of my paycheck, because she allows my dreams of building this company and being a mom to be possible.
I realize I’m extraordinarily lucky to have a paycheck large enough to even do that. I would never — ever — begrudge a woman for quitting a job, because she didn’t have the same luxury or for any other reason. Is it so much to ask that those women don’t judge female CEOs for their choices either?
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]