When newly hired Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that she is pregnant and will be working throughout her maternity leave, she sparked a debate over whether she was making the right decision and what message this sent to other women. We spoke with Amy Jaffe Barzach, director of The Women’s Education and Leadership Fund, about the possible impact of Mayer’s hiring.
What is the significance of Yahoo hiring a relatively young, pregnant woman as its next CEO?
Jaffe Barzach: I think it’s actually a very exciting time for women in America. There are options, there are opportunities, and depending on what each individual woman wants to do, there are more and more ways that they can pursue that. Good for her. I did both. I stayed home with my children and I also worked during maternity leave. I can honestly tell you that all of my children came out just fine and the fact that I had a role in life, the fact that I had a passion for community and for business, is something that I see incorporated in my children’s values.
What challenges will Mayer face being pregnant and then a new mother in such a high-powered position?
Jaffe Barzach: She definitely is going to have a lot of challenges. Before you have children, you just don’t realize how much you can love someone. She has the resources to address the challenges. She has a flexible spouse, she has independence in her work, and she has a board that is stepping forward in, to be honest, a shockingly supportive way. I think when you think about what women need to succeed, they need the right ingredients. I think she’s going to be able to do it.
Is Mayer paving the way for other pregnant women and mothers to take on such roles?
Jaffe Barzach: I think women come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments. There are women who want to stay home with their children and that’s work too. There are women who need to be in the workforce, many who don’t have a choice, and then those who have that opportunity to choose one way or the other. I think women have options and the most important thing is to figure out what needs to be set up so that your child is loved and nurtured.
There has been some criticism that Mayer is sending the wrong message to women by announcing that she will work through her maternity leave. Do you share this opinion?
Jaffe Barzach: When you think about a single mom trying to do what she’s doing, that would probably be impossible. It’s very hard to have the flexibility, to have the financial resources, but she has an amazing education, an amazing track record at Google. The world is changing. It’s no longer a brick and mortar world where you necessarily have to be at a desk at every specific moment. I think she has the vision and the passion to make this happen. It certainly is a big challenge. Yahoo has an opportunity to turn its business around and I think it would be amazing for the business to be turned around by a woman who is pregnant. I think that would just send shockwaves through the rest of American culture and we’d find more boards like the Yahoo board stepping up in this way.
If Mayer fails to improve Yahoo, do you think people will blame her pregnancy or her responsibilities as a mother?
Jaffe Barzach: I think there’s probably plenty of skeptics and critics out there who are just looking for an opportunity to criticize. My guess is that she wouldn’t have taken the position if she didn’t think she could turn it around.
Some commentators have said there is a double standard because you do not hear debates over whether a man can handle being a CEO and a new father. Is this a double standard?
Jaffe Barzach: It bothers me when you see news commentary about a woman’s hair or her clothes or Hillary Clinton’s cleavage in a particular shot. That’s a double standard. I think when you are thinking about a woman CEO in the office giving birth to a child, I think it’s a legitimate question. How is she going to handle it? What are her plans? From everything I have read about her, I would say she would not have stepped up if she had not already laid out all of her resources and figured out the community she needs around her in order to make this work. Good for you Marissa. I’m on your side.
The Women's Education and Leadership Fund provides grants, programs, and scholarships that honor the legacy of Hartford College for Women and benefit the University of Hartford in order to enhance the education of women, empower women to lead, and to enrich the greater Women's Education and Leadership Fund community. For more information, visit www.hartford.edu/welfund.