Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, and Maternity Leave

Shock waves were heard around Silicon Valley and the world when the new Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, announced she was six months pregnant.  Two days ago, the big news was that she was the youngest female CEO — still in her late 30s.  Yesterday, the news wire was chalk full of stories about her pregnancy, her statement on her expected short maternity leave, and whether or not a woman with a baby could handle the job of running a company like Yahoo!.

As a working mom who has worked in the high tech industry for nearly 15 years, I can say that the real news story shouldn’t be whether or not she’ll make a great CEO or a mother.  The news story shouldn’t be about whether or not she’s now the poster child for working mothers everywhere.  The story shouldn’t even be about how long or short of a leave she plans on taking.

The news story should be about how the United States severely lacks adequate parental leave.  The US does not offer a paid maternity leave program.  The federal Family Medical Leave Act only provides job protection for 12 weeks. Pregnant women have to stock away vacation and sick days to cover maternity leave – and companies can force you to take it before you can elect to go unpaid.  That means returning to work with no vacation or sick days — something that most families will need for the countless doctors appointments and other issues that can arise with a newborn.

Technically, under FMLA, Marissa Mayer is not protected for unpaid maternity leave. The first criteria to be eligible is a requirement to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months. Mayer will only have three months under her belt until she’s birthing that baby boy.  Some, like Mayer, are lucky to live in California and have employers who offer paid maternity leave. More than 40% of mothers are not so lucky.  Before those in the unlucky bucket get upset, disability pay is only 55% of your salary with a maximum benefit of $1011 per week in 2012.  Mayer will be taking a steep pay cut for having a baby.

Working mothers aren’t a liability.  We aren’t disloyal.  We certainly are not lazy.  The Census Report released last year, “Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns of First-time Mothers, 1961-2008,” highlighted several trends, including:

• Most women now work during pregnancy. Sixty-six percent of first-time moms worked while expecting, compared to 44 percent 50 years ago.

• The vast majority of women who worked while pregnant – 82 percent – did so until within a month of delivery.

• 80% of mothers who worked during their pregnancy returned to work within a year of their child’s birth to the same employer, most returning to a job at the same pay, skill level and hours worked per week. About 20 percent of working moms switched employers upon returning to work.

Working mothers are fully capable of being in the highest seat of a company.  Mayer may think she’s an excellent multi-tasker now, but just wait until she learns she can lead a conference call while feeding and burping a baby at the same time.  She may have world class negotiation skills, but it will take all of the power in the universe to coax her two year old to eat broccoli.  She’s no doubt a seasoned manager, but she won’t fully understand how to manage her time until she has a soccer game, two birthday parties, and a ballet recital all scheduled for the same Saturday.

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