Motherhood and Work: Is the Recent Criticism of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Fair?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Marissa Mayer, the newly-appointed CEO of Yahoo, recently announced that she was six months pregnant. It's a story that the media and the public can't seem to get enough of.

Her announcement has served as a springboard for critics of Mayer, arguing that it is impossible to balance impending motherhood with the responsibility of running a company the size of Yahoo. 

Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon, and author of a recent article which lambasts the criticism of Mayer, believes that the doubts about the newly promoted CEO's capabilities to balance work and motherhood are unfounded. 

"Here we have this amazing historic moment in American business," she says. "We have this woman who is in one of the most powerful positions in American business, the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and she is listening to pretty much what every working woman has heard when she's disclosed that she is pregnant, which is 'Sweetheart, you just don't know what you're getting into. Honey, it's going to be so much harder than you think. You just don't know.'" 

"The idea that women can't multitask, or that they somehow that they can't handle motherhood and the responsibilities of a high-powered career at the same time is just arrogant," Williams says. "It's arrogant, and it's silly — women have been multitasking since the dawn of humanity." 

What frustrates Williams particularly is the condescending attitude towards Mayer that she believes many critics have. "It's that kind of 'Tut-tut dear, let me tell you what it's really like and how it's really going to go down' that we mothers deal with a lot," she says. 

Mayer has said that her maternity leave will last for only several weeks, and that she plans to "work through it." 

Produced by:

Robert Balint

Comments [21]

Pamela from Queens

I disagree with one comment that we are "glorifying" the shooter by digging into his past and trying to understand his personality. It is important to attempt some understanding at the motivations of such people; I would not construe that as a glorification of such an individual. What we DO glorify is violence, and particularly gun violence. It has been said before, but I it bears repeating: violence is tightly woven into the fabric of American culture. Our entertainments (particularly cinematic) are replete with violence and gun-toting characters who both cause and "solve" problems with gun-play. WHY DO WE NEED TO HAVE THIS? It's no wonder, therefore, that people always remark that they thought what was happening was "like a movie." The junk and mayhem on our screens has completely skewed our thinking about the influence of what we see on how we behave. Let's STOP throwing money at violent images and behaviors and THINK about how to create an American culture that we can be truly proud of.

Jul. 23 2012 09:42 AM
Lydia Johnson from Omaha, Nebraska, USA

What century are we in here? I am attemting to be civil, according to the terms if use. However, I have listened to PRI, APM, and NPR for many years, and never have I been so insulted as I was by the questions raised about pregnancy and a woman's ability to lead a corproration. Such prejudices were never shown to Dick Cheney when he went into the Vice Presidency with a major heart condition. Nor was anyone disrespectful when Ted Kennedy was dying of brain cancer without relinquishing his position as a US Senator. Further, I agree with the woman commented on the belittling comment about mothers and peek-a-boo, or what ever it was. This was my first and last time listening to Takeaway. I prefer shows with intelligent hosts. You've made this new CEO an ikon for mothers in the workforce.

Yours truly,
An Educated and Hardworking Woman

Jul. 20 2012 10:43 PM
Larry Fisher from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn

Bottom line... Will the company make money in the next quarter?

Can't she transfer the fetus to another woman's body or some machine... (just kidding)

I'm loving the concept of 6 month pregnant women going to places and looking for work. Now that would be a very interesting fad

Jul. 20 2012 04:10 PM

If people want to debate a woman's ability to function after birth,I am surprised that no one is raising the obvious question about breastfeeding. If a woman gives birth and then hands the child off to someone else to breastfeed, she has a shot at being able to function and sleep normally. Maybe if she's lucky , she'll be able to nurse a small amount during the day without totally drying up, thereby being able to participatein nourishing her child if she chooses. And be CEO, way to go, home run Marisa. For the child's sake, though, lets just hope Marisa finds a wet nurse. If she puts the infant on formula, that's criminal in my book.

Jul. 20 2012 04:05 PM
Kara Krauze from New York

For the record, mothers who stay at home do more than "sing Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star" all day. A day in an office is generally more reliable in content, interaction, and positive reinforcement than a day with young children. Home and office each have their rewards; home is not easier.

Jul. 20 2012 03:57 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

Ms. Williams needs to get real. Marisa Mayer's ENORMOUS income and the advantages that affords her and the father of her child makes an ENORMOUS difference when it comes to how she copes with motherhood. And the father's fatherhood as well. If Ms. Williams thinks otherwise, she's delusional -- and there's a bridge in Brooklyn she might be interested in purchasing.

Jul. 20 2012 03:57 PM
DB from NJ

Of course women can juggle demanding jobs and motherhood. But being the CEO of Yahoo is no ordinary high-profile job. Yahoo is a major tech company that has been sliding downhill for years. Its CEO doesn't have to simply keep a an efficient, profitable company humming along; its CEO has to stop the bleeding and basically rescue the company and somehow make it relevant again.

Mayer is, I think, the 7th CEO Yahoo has had in the last seven years.

Can Mayer do the job of reversing Yahoo's decline? I have no idea. But I hope she can, simply because there are a number of Yahoo services I use and like, and I'd hate to see them disappear.

Jul. 20 2012 03:55 PM
Victoria from Reality

"Volunteering as a librarian at the local community college?"
Really, dude? Think it might be a bit more difficult without that multi-million dollar paycheck, night nurse, nanny, etc. etc.?
You are a d*ck.

Jul. 20 2012 03:48 PM
Laura from Brooklyn

Heh wait a minute! We don't know what kind of package Marissa negotiated with Yahoo! She may have negotiated a year off post birth! We don't know...

Jul. 20 2012 03:45 PM
Endel Bendel from Spencer MA

Listening to media babble about Mayer, Yahoo CEO who plans to work full time, mhich is double time, dure fourth trimenter. All focus is female narcissism and material capitalistic greed. No one considers the effect on a child of the predictable early attachmint injury. This is a formula for producing a major personality disorder, which since the child is male will involve aggressive behaviors. Where are the experts on early attachment? Where are the leaders in my profession, psychology, at this teachable moment for the culture? We need Winnicott and all we get is shrill angry feminism. Predicably, when these self-gratifying parents start to see problem, in toddler or early school age, they will react with all they understand, material overindulgence, and make the problem worse. To realize his destiny the kid will have to live in Colorado.

Jul. 20 2012 12:22 PM
Suzette from MA

I would like to applaud this woman for having a career that enables her to afford the support needed to be a new mother and hold a high profile position at her job. I am continuously amazed at the sour grapes expressed by women who are not able to afford such assistance. She didn't inherit her money, she earned it and should be able to enjoy the fruits of her success.

Jul. 20 2012 12:01 PM
Shanna from Columbia, SC

I appreciated your story this morning but wanted to take issue with the less-than-flattering comment about librarians. No, librarianship is not usually considered a stressful job, but I want to point out that you don't just walk into a library and ask to be a volunteer librarian like the story implied. Librarianship is a profession which requires a masters degree in Library and Information Science. I realize you were probably thinking of people who volunteer to re-shelve books at their local libraries, but I wanted to point this out as I run into this confusion about my career field frequently.

Jul. 20 2012 11:12 AM
anna from new york

Natasha, what you saying is beyond comical. A baby of a CEO mother can still need her at night, if she decides to breastfeed him. He/she doesn't need the father who can spend this night and any other with some babe in a different mansion.
It's different though with regular folks who probably share (at least to a degree) sleepless nights (they still can sleep in a different room).
However ... I couldn't care less about Marissa Mayer and similar "ladies." I do care how women (and men) are treated in their companies. Something tell me that their techniques of management are not much different from that of the ladies in the video. Here is a problem and not where babbling "ladies" want us to see.

Jul. 20 2012 10:26 AM
Natasha from Columbia, SC

What everyone seems to leave out of the conversation is fathers. Obviously, new mothers go through a bit more because of the obvious physical requirements of giving birth and nursing. But a new father faces a lot of the same things as a new mother, if not more, since he is helping to take care of the new mother as well. What if a male ceo is hired who is expecting a baby? He will have the same amount of sleepless nights as a new mother. Or is a new mother expected to handle it all so her ceo husband can get a good night's sleep for his important job? I think most couples that have a baby share the responsibilities in taking care of a newborn, or at least they should. And why is it ok to think that a man can handle a high powered job with a newborn at home, but a woman can't?

Jul. 20 2012 10:05 AM
anna from new york

I had in mind Shanna's good comment (not some Shane)

Jul. 20 2012 09:48 AM
anna from new york

Ed, what are you babbling about. The Soroses have multiple wives and children not to mention millions of "babes" unlike the rest of us who barely can afford one child.

Jul. 20 2012 09:46 AM
anna from new york

This Salon woman is despicable. We haven't heard so many slogans and platitudes since ... Stalin.
Shane, good comment. Last week I met someone who has a paid ONE WEEK of maternity leave. No, she can't afford to resign. No, she can't be without pay.
But "ladies," primitive and barbaric, continue babbling. Oh, ladies, always nice, always compassionate.

Jul. 20 2012 09:41 AM
Shanna from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

The missing element of this entire discussion about the goodness of working mothers is that this case about Marisa Mayer is really about privilege. Ms. Mayer has all the resources she needs to build an amazing support system that may include night nurses and full time nannies. She may even be able to create an on site in house day care center for her child if one doesn't already exist. Of course Ms. Mayer will have no problem juggling "it all." Unfortunately most working mothers in the United States don't have that kind of support.

Jul. 20 2012 07:48 AM
Maaza from Johannesburg, South Africa

People keep saying that Anne-Marie's Slaughter's main point in her recent (fabulous) Atlantic piece was "You can't possibly have it all." I actually read the main point as: "Here what would have to change in the professional world and in our understanding of gender norms for people – especially mothers – to achieve a healthier work-life balance and come closer to having it all."

Jul. 20 2012 07:45 AM

How Marissa and THE FATHER OF THE CHILD decide to care for and raise their child is none of our business. How she runs Yahoo is our business.

Jul. 20 2012 06:13 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's wonderful to see family life making an appearance at the top of corporate America.

Jul. 20 2012 06:06 AM

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