Back off on Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave

Updated 10:06 AM EDT, Thu September 3, 2015
02:11 - Source: CNN
The business of being Marissa Mayer

Story highlights

Mel Robbins: Yahoo CEO isn't sending wrong message with her plan to return to work quickly

She says few would question a new dad returning to work soon after child's birth

Decision on maternity leave is personal -- and Marissa Mayer's, Robbins says

Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer turned to Tumblr this week to write “Happy personal news” announcing she’s pregnant again, this time with twin girls.

The news about twins was a surprise, but it is no surprise that the legendary workaholic plans on “taking limited time away and working throughout” her pregnancy. And like a shot of Pitocin, the announcement induced widespread debate about Mayer’s choices, the message she’s sending to women in tech, and maternity leave in general.

Mel Robbins
CNN
Mel Robbins

But I can’t slam her decision, however it ends up. As far as I’m concerned, the length of your maternity and paternity leave are deeply personal choices. Mayer’s not sending a message, she’s just living her life – in her case one that includes having twins and running a Fortune 500 company. If you want to take a message from her example, there is more than one: You can be dedicated to work and family, and you should do what’s right for you.

And as long as you are critical of Mayer’s choice to take “limited time” on maternity leave, you’ll miss the bigger question:

Why does Mayer need to take a longer maternity leave?

Because she’s a woman? Why don’t you hold male CEOs to the same parenting standard?

Mayer is the fifth-highest paid CEO in the S&P 500. And keep in mind, Yahoo is going through a “unique time” as it heads into a corporate restructuring. Yahoo is spinning itself off from Alibaba, its most lucrative asset. And guess when that happens? When the twins are due to arrive.

What would you suggest that a male CEO do in a situation like this? Stay away from work? Of course not. You’d expect him to hire help. Male CEOs are entitled to paternity leave, and we don’t get out the pitchforks when they choose not to take it.

Netflix just announced up to a year of paid parental leave benefits. Do you really expect its CEO, Reed Hastings, to take advantage of it? I didn’t think so.

Imagine if Mayer had taken four months of paid leave as Yahoo spins off from Alibaba. Her compensation package in 2015 was worth $41.2 million. Can’t you just see the blog posts calculating the “true cost” of her maternity leave down to the hour? Either she’s a lousy mom or CEO who’s not dedicated. The only way she wins is if she makes the best choice for her own personal situation.

For those of you who ask her to lead by example, she has. There is no indication that her son is neglected, or that her marriage is in trouble, or that her pregnancy is anything but healthy – in fact everyone appears to be thriving. She seems to love what she does for a living. We should wish that for everyone.

Apparently Yahoo does: Under Mayer’s leadership it has instituted a 16-week paid maternity policy and eight-week paid paternity policy for employees.

Should Mayer take the 16 weeks’ leave? She could … but here’s the most important thing to realize: She doesn’t want to!

As Mayer said on Tumblr: “There will be a lot to do for both my family and for Yahoo; both will require hard work and thoughtful prioritization. However, I’m extremely energized by and dedicated to both my family and Yahoo and will do all that is necessary and more to help both thrive.”

Maternity leave and paternity leave policies are just that – policies designed to give parents choices and flexibility. You can be dedicated to your family and your work. And how you make that happen will be based on your choices.

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