Mums get it in the neck. Sometimes they just can’t win. Debate is raging around Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, and her assertion that she’ll only be taking a few weeks of maternity leave and plans to pretty much work through it. Naive? Yes. (A newborn is bloody hard work.) But with lots of cash to throw at the situation? Well, yes, maybe it is possible to resume your career the day the baby and mother are booted out of the private hospital followed by a gaggle of muslin-clutching nannies ready to mop up every posset. Three cheers for the woman with a successful career! Hooray for the woman who’s having a baby! But a woman trying to have a career and a baby at the same time? Boo hiss!
Marissa Mayer is an amazing example of what a woman can achieve in business. What? Even wearing heels and lipstick? Well, yes. Patronising as it may sound to mark her out as something extraordinary, that – unfortunately – is the world we live in. Women at Ms Mayer’s level are still an exception rather than a rule. It’s still odd. It is even more odd – as the debate around her comments would suggest – that a woman could choose to have a baby and choose to continue her career at the expense of the precious time that not being at work allows a mother and her child.
Yet if you’ve already made sacrifices and worked flipping hard why would you want to give up any elements of what you’ve achieved? You’re still a mother regardless. Your child still needs you and in amongst the conference calls and PDA tapping you’ll make sure you meet that need. Many women don’t get the chance to spend a long maternity leave with their child and for reasons very different to Marissa Mayer’s. She may not need to go back to work for the money but plenty of women do and need to do so quick smartish – a sad reality, like it or not, of a world driven by filthy lucre.
A woman shouldn’t have to choose a career over parenthood (or vice versa). The midwife doesn’t send you out of the hospital with a placard saying “I’m a Mother and I aspire to nothing but burping my baby”. Equally, if/when you do return to work you don’t wear a badge saying “Opting out – I’m just here for nappy money”. But in a society where women are still the primary carers for children, making sacrifices (intentionally or otherwise) is inevitable. Even when you attempt to strike a work/life balance it can, speaking from experience, feel like you’re failing at both. Should you be able to have your cake and eat it? Of course, but for most ordinary women it isn’t possible to be Superwoman – and let’s face it Marissa Mayer isn’t ‘ordinary’.
Marissa Mayer would probably love to take a year off if she knew for sure that things wouldn’t move on without her and set back her achievements. Bringing up a child alongside the pressures of her career will be another achievement that she can be proud of. To me she doesn’t sound like a woman who would do things by halves.