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by Cathy Vandewater | July 20, 2012


Here's where the conversation left off on working women: with Anne-Marie Slaughter, and her now infamous "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All" piece in The Atlantic:

"All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family.

"I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession.

"I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot)."

--Anne-Marie Slaughter, "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All," The Atlantic

Somewhere along the line, while trying for equal rights, women got a heaping plate of responsibilities. More than their fair share, according to many, and if you ask Slaughter, a near impossible amount to manage.

Unless you're Marissa Mayer.

On one hand, the fact that Mayer was hired for such a high profile role while 6 months pregnant is a great sign of evolving times: it means she's been viewed as a capable and effective leader based on her experience--not considered a liability, because of her family plans.

On the other hand, Mayer, who is not, by her own description, a "feminist," may have had make huge sacrifices to get that opportunity, and many women who would like to look up to her resent it.

Those sacrifices, namely, come down to Mayer's promise to work through her maternity leave. Which is admirable, but may be setting the bar too high for an already burdened workforce.

And wherever the bar is set, Mayer's definitely standing on some blocks: she's set to make 100 million in her first 5 years at Yahoo. That's certainly enough to hire a nanny, though even drop off laundry service and dinner out would be privileges that most working mothers don't enjoy.

Thus, average working mother, Mayer is not.

But should we feel still sorry for her?

Many women's groups have denounced Mayer's claims that she's not a feminist, and accused her of undoing years of progress by rejecting time off. Maternity leave was a hard won right, as was the ability of a woman to lead a company—let alone while pregnant.

But consider the field Mayer works in. As The New York Times' Claire Cain Miller describes it, "the insular Silicon Valley deal-making boys' club" is not an easy place to throw around the "F" word. It's possible that, though notoriously hard working, Mayer is, to some extent, forced to play catch up with work-family life balance. Young, single men, after all, don’t get pregnant.

Mayer's hiring does represent a positive shift for working women, but the coming months may reveal deeper truths in how we view mothers at the office. Will Mayer really work through her maternity leave? Will this indeed set the bar higher for other working women, and lower for companies to follow through on penalty-free time off for new moms?

If the company stumbles under Mayer's leadership, will shareholders point the finger at her conflicting work/home responsibilities? Will there be backlash on "having it all" once again?

Miller says it best, in her Times piece: "But if urgently needed changes that let workers have successful careers and successful families can happen anywhere, perhaps it is here, where Ms. Mayer’s news was met with celebration. It is the same place, after all, that Ms. Sandberg’s admission that she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. to eat dinner with her children was considered a successful business strategy. Ms. Mayer is a role model who will be closely watched, not just by those interested in whether she can turn around Yahoo, but by working parents."

What do you think about the controversy? Here are a few quotes from LinkedIn users, courtesty of Business Insider. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

LinkedIn user Sara M. Johnson: "For those women who assume or maybe just fear that they cannot 'have it all,' Mayer's accomplishment should be an inspiration. And to Yahoo for giving Mayer this opportunity, I think their decision sends and equally strong message that the most qualified candidate for the job should be selected based on those qualifications – not based on other factors."

LinkedIn user Sharon Martin: "I think the time given to women is wonderful. But women in their own business, family farms and with other children have been returning to work earlier for centuries. This focus just shows we haven't moved far enough in [our] thinking when it comes to women and careers. Let's stop trying to put women in a box. We can each decide [the] life we want for ourselves and [our] families, how hard we want to work, how we want to structure our family."

LinkedIn user Valerie Sutton: "This is not just a woman's issue, this should be considered a family values issue.  If men have the ability and are encouraged to take paternity leave at the highest level, there will be less of the "should or should not" question for women."

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:

What Marissa Mayer Means for Silicon Valley Women (NY Times)

LinkedIn Users Say What They Think About Yahoo Hiring A Pregnant CEO (Business Insider)

Does Work/Life Balance Exist on Wall Street?

Are You Leaving Vacation Days on the Table? Don't!




Filed Under: Workplace Issues