Choices & Flexibility

Marissa Mayer announced that she’s pregnant with twins and plans to take a short maternity leave (two weeks) when she delivers in December. The chatter about this news is all over social and mainstream media. Endless numbers of people are weighing in on her decision. I caught part of a discussion about it on the TV news while waiting for an appointment. Should she take a longer maternity leave? Did she have a responsibility to do so since women have fought long and hard for expanded benefits? Shouldn’t she serve as a role model for all women? The same morning the Washington Post’s column “On Leadership” was also talking about her parenting decisions.

As CEO of Yahoo, Ms. Mayer has some decisions to make – both about how to parent and about how to run a company. She’s not the first CEO to make such a decision. Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, the on-line commerce sites, took a full paternity leave when he and his wife adopted a child in 2012. In each case, both CEOs had to weight the circumstances of their situations – which were similar, but not identical – to make their decisions. For Dickerson, the timing of his leave was at the height of the holiday shopping season. He had to go to the board to explain the importance of taking this time off and provide a plan for their approval. Mayer’s company, Yahoo, is going through a critical period in its life cycle, spinning off Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, a transition that will be completed by the end of this calendar year. Their situations are unique in comparison to the situations of other employees in their respective organization who are facing the same decision about parental leave. Their positions in their companies are not distinctive and not representative of the typical parent (mother or father).

As I listened to the debate on the TV about Mayer’s choices, I couldn’t help but think that there’s not a cookie cutter approach for how new parents deal with the demands of their growing families and the responsibilities of their jobs. It’s yet another aspect of diversity. Jena McGregor, the columnist who wrote the piece on Mayer, rightfully pointed out that as CEO, she may not have as many choices as other expectant mothers at Yahoo might have.

Organizations in this country are making great strides in offering more robust benefits to help all employees, not only new mothers and fathers, have better work-life integration. The stigma surrounding men taking paternity leave is dissipating. We’re making progress, but still have more work to do as a country on this issue. Despite how far we have, or haven’t come, it’s a journey that continues. More choices are available than a generation ago and more should be available to all working parents. Flexibility continues to be an important issues for workplaces today. In the meantime, it’s important to respect the decisions that individuals choose to make.


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