When 37 year old Marissa Mayer was named the new CEO of Yahoo, women everywhere rejoiced. - I know I did. Girl power! And when she made it public not too long after that she was also (gasp) expecting, the party died down and everyone seemed to have an opinion. But when she went onto say she’d work through her maternity leave and only take a few weeks off at most, it seemed everyone had a stone to throw her way.
I am pretty excited because I see it as an opportunity to get some basic truths out there. Let’s start with the fact that there is absolutely a double standard for women in the work place when it comes to child-birth. Actually the one thing that is equal about men and women is how both genders completely fail to treat pregnant women the same as they would a man whose wife is pregnant. Case in point, when I was pregnant with my first child and shared the news with my co-workers about 90% of them – didn’t matter if they were men or women – asked me if I was going to stay home with the baby. I know it mostly a well-intentioned question. But as a sales person whose paycheck was at that time 100% derived from commission, what started out as innocuous interest took on sinister overtones. Because folks didn’t just ask me if I was going to stay home with the baby and then just leave it at that. They did just what folks are doing to Marissa Mayer right now: poo-poohing her commitment to her career as naiveté. Poor girl doesn’t know what she will feel like once the baby comes, right?
Here’s the very real problem with this underlying bias we all have against pregnant women in the workplace. It undermines the credibility and the ability of women who may have spent their whole lives building a business or dedicating themselves to reach their career goals. And it damages us.
Second true story, up until recently there has only been one time that my commission has been cut. And it happened when I was on maternity leave with my first son. My commission was cut (by a tiny amount) and partially redirected to a male sales person who was not in any way shape or form pregnant. I didn’t think it was a coincidence then and I still don’t. And since it was such a small amount it truly wasn’t a money issue. To me it was that underlying sense that I might not be coming back from maternity leave while management had no such concerns about my male counterpart.
And riddle me this, how many of you have asked fathers to be are asked if they are going to stay at home with the baby? I remember after one particularly grumpy day at work, when it seemed every well-intentioned person co-worker insisted I’d want to stay home when my first child finally arrived I looked at my husband and asked him if he had told his co-workers that I was pregnant. When he answered affirmatively, I then asked him how many of them asked if he was going to stay home with the baby. When he answered that no one in fact had asked him that particular question I pretty much lost my mind.
What it boils down to is that as a society we still feel that when a woman is pregnant or has a baby at home, she needs a lighter workload. But when a man’s wife is pregnant he needs to work even harder to provide for the newest addition to his family.
And here’s the deal, there is nothing wrong with this being an option for couples who choose it. But it must stop being this universally accepted and unspoken truth from which our workplaces operate. Men can stay home with babies and be amazing parents just as easily as women can. Besides the physical recuperation needed post-childbirth, there is no reason to think a hard-driving career woman can’t step back into the role of CEO of a major corporation. It’s not for everyone and it doesn’t have to be – it just needs to be an option that is okay for a woman to choose without everyone weighing in on the matter.
So how do you solve a problem like Marissa? By realizing she’s really not a problem at all.
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