Google executive Marissa Mayer has been named Yahoo's new CEO. The… (Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images )
If this were a more enlightened world I wouldn't even be writing this.
Because the news of a pregnant woman becoming a CEO wouldn't be news. At least the "pregnant" and "woman" part wouldn’t be.
But this is the United States in 2012 and Marissa Mayer's ascent to become the chief executive of Yahoo Inc. is still a novelty on a couple of counts.
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First, of course, she's a girl in a guys' world. If Google mapped nerd testosterone zones, Silicon Valley would be the virtual Himalayas. Mayer's ascent from Google employee No. 20 to the Numero Uno at Yahoo makes her the 20th woman among the nation's top 500 CEOs. Twenty out of 500 is 4%.
Only 4%. The United States Senate has 17% women, and the Senate is one of the most hidebound places around. Except for the little CEOs’ room.
Mayer’s job, and pregnancy, are being analyzed to a fare-thee-well. Yahoo’s brief stock bounce after the announcement subsided by the end of the day, and the portentous parade of punditry began.
One Forbes commenter mused about Mayer’s pregnancy announcement coming right on the heels of the CEO announcement, and concluded that pregnancy "would not be captured by an SEC disclosure obligation," and asked whether Apple had "a duty to disclose [Steve] Jobs’ [health] condition?"
The website Jezebel had sharp words for a commenter named Brian Sullivan on the MSNBC show "Morning Joe,: who had offered this advice: "Take some time off. Yahoo's been in trouble for years … Get your baby. Raise the kid for a little bit, and then, work on the company when you can."
Easy for him to say. Men who become fathers don’t lose their places on the fast track. In fact, a study in January’s Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology found that male college professors — those figures the right wing mocks as uber-liberals undermining the social fabric — are as stereotyped as any other men when it comes to what they actually do on paternity leave, if not more so. Only three of the 109 professors surveyed spent any serious part of their paternity leave doing real child care, like changing diapers or feeding the infants. And some of these new fathers spent some leave time working on their academic research and publishing.
On the other hand …
Women who choose to have children lose economic ground at work.
Women who breastfeed lose economic ground at work.
Women who move lose economic ground — sometimes even their jobs.
And the same Fortune commenter pointed out that Mayer is a medically geriatric mother because she’s 37, with a higher risk for pregnancy complications than women 35 and younger.
Does anyone think Mayer doesn’t know that?
Even in the less-than-enlightened 1970s, when the Los Angeles politician Yvonne Brathwaite Burke — the first black California woman in Congress — became the first member of Congress to get pregnant and give birth in office, she was 40 years old, and there was no whisper in The Times about whether she might be too old to do this.
Poor Mayer, carrying water for Yahoo, and now for her entire gender.
When will all this go away? When we no longer have crappy corporate and political cultures that exploit :families" with platitudes and hosannas to some imagined Midwestern Madonna idea of motherhood, and take a bow themselves for praising it … at the same time they treat pregnancy as the equivalent of a deplorable career-sidelining injury and children as a photo op.
Here’s how it’s going to go. Whatever happens to Yahoo, some of these boob tube dudes will find a way to scold the mom.
If Yahoo tanks under Mayer’s stewardship, they’ll be saying, "See? If she hadn’t had that baby, she’d have been able to focus on her work."
And if Yahoo thrives, it’ll be because, see, women can do it all, and if she can do it without gubmint help, what are all these other women whining about?
Who will be reminding them that Mayer is so very different from millions of other women? She is way, way up in the top 1% of earners, with matchless medical care and child care and the pockets to pay for it.
Her success is great for women overall, but it wouldn’t do much to lift all those other boats, the dinghies, not the yachts, being rowed so laboriously by women who don’t get stock options, whose work doesn’t give them healthcare or flex-time to take the kids to the doctor, who can’t find or afford the backup of child care, but who still may have sexist, clueless bosses who look at them and think, hey, if Marissa Mayer can do it, why can’t you?
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