Yahoo CEO's pregnancy reignites a perennial debate

Associated Press Modified: July 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm •  Published: July 17, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — "Another piece of good news today," tweeted the expectant mom, announcing to her online followers that she and her husband are awaiting a baby boy.

But this wasn't just any excited mom-to-be. This was 37-year-old Marissa Mayer, the newly named CEO of Yahoo — obviously a huge achievement for anyone, but especially for a woman in the male-dominated tech industry. And she was about six months pregnant, to boot.

Exciting news — especially for Mayer and her husband, of course — but did it mean something for the rest of us, too? Was it a watershed moment in the perennial debate over whether women can "have it all," with the pendulum swinging happily in the positive direction?

Or was it, as some claimed in the inevitable back-and-forth on Twitter, actually a development that would increase pressure on other working moms, who might not have nearly the resources that Mayer does, in terms of wealth, power, talent and flexibility on the job?

Or was it even sexist to raise the question at all? Would anyone be saying anything if the new Yahoo CEO were an expectant father? No, went a frequent online thread: No one would even pay attention to that.

What was clear was that Mayer's situation as a pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company is not only rare, but probably unique. She becomes only the 20th current female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, according to Catalyst, an organization that tracks women's advancement in the workplace. If it sounds like a lot, it's not; that's only four percent of Fortune 500 chiefs.

There is little or no research tracking whether any have been pregnant while in that job, but a look at the other current female Fortune 500 CEOs shows that the vast majority are well into their 50s, and thus presumably well out of maternity-leave territory.

Mayer, who left Google to take the new job, wasn't speaking — tied up with her first-day responsibilities Tuesday at Yahoo, she declined interview requests, including one from The Associated Press. But on Monday, she told Fortune magazine that the Yahoo board "showed their evolved thinking" by hiring a pregnant chief executive, and that she plans to take only a few weeks maternity leave — during which she would work throughout.

That raised a few eyebrows among some who suspected it might not be as easy as the first-time mom thinks.

"She will also, I am betting, not power through quite as single-mindedly on her maternity leave as she thinks she will," wrote Lisa Belkin on her Huffington Post blog.

Many speculated that, like other working moms, Mayer would find her attentions and energies divided well beyond maternity leave.

"Anyone can have it all," said Julie Marrs, a sales administrator in Conroe, Texas, "but maybe not be as successful at everything as one hopes." Marrs, a mother of two boys who works full-time, said she has learned the hard way that something always gets sacrificed.

"There are times that I am so mentally drained when I get home from work that I definitely do not spend the time I should with my kids," she said in an email message. "Whether it be working on homework, reading books, playing a game or simply talking about their day. I try my best, but realize that to 'have it all,' something will be sacrificed. It could be takeout four nights during the week instead of a hot, home-cooked meal. Or it could be hearing your child read their first story book."

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