Marissa Mayer and C-Suite Motherhood Culture

Marissa Mayer maternity leave, Marissa Mayer twins, Marissa Mayer in trouble with Yahoo shareholders

Ambitious women, like Mayer, who want to climb the corporate ladder will see her example and conclude simply that taking maternity leave is an unwise career choice. And this is where “do as I say not as I do” fails over and again. It’s not a question of maternity leave, it’s a question of management.

Marissa Mayer seems so terribly trend forward: pregnant with twins at a time when the private sector has become infatuated — if not hell-bent — on making sense of the “new normal” of parental leave and back-to-work strategies.

We have been living through the summer of Baby Love! It has been an endless parade of organizational one-betters: better maternity/parental leave, better pumping, better milk shipping, better childcare, better nursing at work clothing, fatherhood support, and mommy-mentors! It has been a glorious summer for the gestating or soon-to-be. This has been the summer where suddenly finding the very personal balance of career and family seems manageable, even possible. For organizations like the It’s Working Project, this sudden pivot towards addressing the question of parenting in the workplace has been nothing short of exciting, optimistic, and even destined.

Enter Ms. Mayer, pregnant with twins and poised to lead with her powerful C-suite voice. Uniquely positioned to validate the concept of maternity leave as the whole world watches. And while Ms. Mayer’s plans for maternity and return are terribly personal and with absolutely no right answer, in her particular case she had the incredible power to give parents in her organization the confidence to choose leave as a viable, acceptable, non-disruptive plan. Mayer’s announcement that she would take little or no leave made all of the “best in class” policies so shiny just a few months ago, break under the reality of corporate culture.

In a recent Upshot” New York Times article, Claire Cain Miller writes:

“But it also raises the question of whether these new benefits will be more talked up than actually taken. Employees may wonder if doing so is acceptable or if it could hurt their careers. At many companies, the new benefits are at odds with a highly demanding 24/7 work culture — a culture that starts from the top.”

Ambitious women, like Mayer, who want to climb the corporate ladder will see her example and conclude simply that taking maternity leave is an unwise career choice.

And this is where “do as I say not as I do” fails over and again. It’s not a question of maternity leave, it’s a question of management.

We at the It’s Working Project know how the C-suite calcifies culture. From the ongoing Portrait Project, we’ve seen clearly that management’s attitude about parental leave factors into how new parents successfully transition back to work. Both women and men who had successful transitions back to work after baby cited management as one of the top reasons why, and those who had a harder time felt their workplace was inflexible or unsupportive of their decisions.

Mayer took a bold, commendable step in advancing Yahoo’s parental leave policy to 16 weeks of paid leave in 2013, shortly after giving birth to her first child. But that seems to be more of an “on paper” deal. The truth lies in the organizational expectations that Mayer is setting, which, fairly or not, are the standards which give the full picture.

Julia Beck is the founder of Forty Weeks and the It’s Working Project and is the mother of four in Washington D.C.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License/Michael Tippett

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