“Can I email you later? I’m in labor.”
In “Maternity Leave? More Like a Pause,” a recent article in the New York Times, new mom and consulting firm partner Carmen, recalled sending the quote above as an email while she was in the delivery room, remarking “That…was a fun email to send.”
I admire Carmen: her dedication to her job, her strong work ethic, the humor and pleasure she found in sending a work email during labor. In the article, Carmen is one of the many voices defending another hardworking, mom-to-be: Newly minted Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Carmen, and her executive level cohort, support Mayer’s decision to forgo a full length maternity leave in favor of a shorter leave, which she will work through.
I agree with them: Let’s stop criticizing Mayer. Stop with the alternately gendered and “sanctimommy” jabs at Mayer’s alleged naivete about the demands of new motherhood. Step away from the betting windows when it comes to how she’s going to handle a new baby and her new position at Yahoo. None of this judgemental behavior towards Mayer is okay. High profile new dads enjoy the luxury of taking on whatever career challenges they want without the suddenly-child-expert musings of hand wringing Internet trolls. If you want to know my bet, Mayer’s going to handle it like she’s handled everything else: Like a hardworking, trailblazing, force to be reckoned with. She didn’t work her way through the ranks of Google, become Google’s first female engineer, and go on to be the youngest Fortune 500 CEO ever because she was bad at making choices and thinking logically and strategically through decisions.
I’m glad women who have made similar choices are coming out in support of Mayer. But there’s something missing in this conversation: While Mayer’s decision can be supported, it’s also important to bring our voices together to support moms who don’t even have the option to make such a decision in the first place.
This includes moms who would like to take maternity leave but can’t afford to because our country doesn’t have a paid maternity leave policy. It also includes moms who don’t have the option to work through maternity leave given the nature of their job duties. Moms who may face harassment or unnecessary red tape when they need to take paid family leave. Women who could use the support and public encouragement of prominent voices coming forward and supporting their choices as well.
Here’s an example: My mom is a nurse. Unlike many of the women in the NYTimes article, she’s unable to swish her thumb across the bottom bar of her iPhone and assist in surgery from afar. A family friend is a bus driver, who likewise cannot operate that behemoth of a vehicle from a desk in her kitchen, bathed in laptop light. The same goes for women throughout a wide variety of sectors, including service, automotive, etc. And while they couldn’t work through a maternity leave due to the nature of their jobs, many of them lack the luxury of even having a paid maternity leave to turn down. In fact, most don’t even have that choice. 51% of new mothers lack any paid leave – so when a new baby arrives some women take unpaid leave, some quit, some even lose their jobs. The U.S is one of only 4 countries that doesn’t offer paid leave to new mothers — we’re joined by Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
The media wants us to get on our high horse about Marissa Mayer’s life choices. I say let’s get a new horse, and ask her to ride it with us. This doesn’t have to be a new iteration of the worn out ”mommy wars.” We can celebrate Mayer’s accomplishments while working to support the millions of moms across the country who do not have the same choices that Mayer has, who do not access to maternity leave, or who face harassment and the jeopardization of their hard work based on the occupancy status of their wombs.
While everyone weighs in on whether Mayer is right or wrong in her maternity leave decisions, I have this to say to Yahoo’s new CEO:
Marissa Mayer, I’m so proud of you. You’re an inspiration to me, as a working woman who eventually wants to have kids. You’ve shown that it’s still possible to make huge strides in your career as an expecting mother. You and Yahoo have shown that not all companies will subject pregnant employees, or potential employees, to discrimination that can negatively impact their pregnancies and careers. I know you’re busy, but there’s something you can do that will have a big impact on your fellow expectant mothers across the country. Will you raise your voice with the MomsRising movement and support nationwide paid maternity leave? You’re an inspiration to so many women, and your support in making sure that all moms, regardless of income or profession, have the same parenting choices and opportunity to take paid time off if they need to, would be incredibly meaningful.