Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave is her problem. Choosing her as a role model is yours.

Marissa Mayer

So Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo announced (yet again) that she was taking limited time off for the birth of her twin girls in December. “Limited time” here refers to two weeks. Yes, you heard right.

Depending on where you are in the spectrum of mothers, babies, careers and work-life balance, this is either a complete blow or totally motivating. This is also incongruous at a time when companies like Flipkart in India have just started warming up to extending maternity leave

I have been hearing a lot of “how dare she?” and “what does this mean for mothers?” and “how can she set a precedent?” and other such outcries on social media and it’s amusing that history has repeated itself so soon. The reactions were not very different three years ago, and I had responded here to Mayer’s first micro maternity leave announcement.

A few months later, in a lean-in blog post, Mayer explained the circumstances surrounding her decision:

After 13 years of really hard work at Google, I had been envisioning a glorious six-month maternity leave. However, if I took the new job, a long leave couldn’t happen. The responsibilities were too big, and time was of the essence—it just wouldn’t be fair to the company, the employees, the board, or the shareholders for me to be in the role, but out for an extended period of time.’

Soon after that, she issued an internal memo to her employees on introducing a ban on working from home. Needless to say, the memo sparked a debate on whether remote working leads to greater productivity and job satisfaction or kills creativity and is just a chance to slack off.

Is this the same woman? Doesn’t this sound dichotomous?

But then, motherhood is the biggest dichotomy anyway. There are ways and ways of negotiating it and there is no right or wrong about any of them. There are those like my mother who get on with it, leaving the baby with family and formula (those were the glorious joint family days). She was a school teacher, so her hours were good. She loved her job and retired from the same school 36 years later. There are others who do daycare, nannies, grandparents, or a combination thereof, depending on what their sanity or salary can afford. There are those, who like me, decide that jobs can be got back, but baby time can’t, and plunge into full-time baby care.

If you do the former, you are often looked at sceptically as someone who chose career over motherhood, money over emotional bonding, bottle over breast. If you choose the latter, you are looked upon as someone who was using motherhood as an excuse to sit at home and ‘do nothing’, who is an emotional sucker waiting to be manipulated by her child, who wanted out of the rat race and has found her way.

Not that quitting work is an option for most women – you need a partner who is willing to put the bread on the table, sometimes jam and cheese too, for an indefinite period of time, while you play primary caregiver to the baby.

So damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Your reasons for going back could be as compelling as your reasons for staying at home. Money, of course is the biggest reason, considering that two incomes are better than one, now that there is an additional member in the family.

What about caregiving to the newborns, you may ask. It’s evident that Mayer won’t be breastfeeding her twins (most of the times, twins are not breastfed anyway as there is never enough milk). It’s silly to even ask if she has support because she can afford the entire daycare industry. She can build one right next door to Yahoo if she so chooses.

And why is no one questioning her husband’s paternity leave? Isn’t that equally important in a power couple scenario? Why is he not being judged for that?

It strikes me as odd that we are discussing Marissa Mayer only when it comes to her maternity leave, and never for the work she does (which must be a lot, as Yahoo! CEO). And that, I think is a greater crime against feminism than questioning the signs she is sending out, coming to work two weeks after popping twins.

If she joined Yahoo as CEO when she was 28 weeks pregnant, her game is clearly different from millions of other mommies. So why judge her for playing what is clearly not every woman’s game?

Of course, the US has a dismal maternity leave policy and surely the law in the country should be strengthened to guarantee paid parental leave. But the jury on when is it okay for mothers to return to work post-childbirth is still out there. I would certainly judge her if she applied the same rules to her employees, but she hasn’t done that yet, has she? In fact she has changed maternity leave policies and granted eight weeks or more of paid maternity leave.

The point is, none of you is Marissa Mayer, and so your motivations will never be same as hers; her stakes are very different from yours. She signed up to be the CEO of Yahoo, not a maternity leave role model; she is only doing what it takes to keep her equity as a CEO intact. If she has decided that much rides on her FaceTime with the investors of a much crumbling Yahoo, that is her strategy. It need not be yours.

Marissa Mayer is not asking you to give up your maternity leave for your career. If that’s what you are reading as a subtext of her decision, that is clearly your problem, not hers.

(A version of this post appeared in indusparent.com)

(image courtesy: glamour.com)

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