Today’s news: Marissa Mayer was just appointed CEO at Yahoo. She is a very early employee at Google, Silicon Valley icon, and she’s six months pregnant. She has announced she’ll take only two weeks maternity leave.
My reaction: I’m so sick of people saying that women like Marissa Mayer are trailblazers when they take on huge corporate responsibility instead of taking care of young kids at home. Leaving kids at home so you can do a big job at the office is old news. People have been doing it for decades.
Marissa Mayer is very Sheryl Sandberg: smart, driven, hard working, a high achiever. She represents all the things that we celebrate in our culture.
Do you know what we do not celebrate? Staying home with kids. There are no official titles or pay scales. It’s disappointing to women who don’t have kids to watch another woman with a fascinating, fun career leave that career to take care of her kids. It scares the women who don’t have kids. No one aspires to be the woman who dumps a great career to step out of the spotlight.
Here are some samples from the media reporting on Marissa Mayer:
• “What a role model,” writes Claire Cain Miller for the New York Times. “By taking such a powerful leadership role while she is pregnant, Ms. Mayer, who has always been outspoken about encouraging girls to study computer science and pursue technology jobs, is becoming an example in the mold of Sheryl Sandberg.”
• “We think this is a first,” notes Colleen Taylor forTechCrunch. “It’s hard to think of a time when a CEO of a major listed tech company has gone on maternity leave. It could certainly be a trailblazing turn.”
• Writing for the Atlantic Wire, Dashiell Bennett writes in the Atlantic Wire, “she’s not just fighting for all women, she’s fighting for all the moms out there too. It doesn’t take a giant leap of imagination to see that Mayer will now become the poster mom for the ‘can women have it all?’ debate.”
Why do we celebrate Mayer’s decision? Why does Mayer fight for all women? You know why people don’t like to hire pregnant women? Because it is completely normal to have a new baby and be so consumed by the new baby that you divert lots of energy to that baby. In fact, it would be abnormal to not divert a significant amount of energy to a new baby.
So why do we celebrate women who are aberrations? Clearly only a minority of women could even dream of making the choice to take two weeks maternity leave when they have enough resources to take much more. Her decision is an anomalous decision.
The most revolutionary thing you can do for women right now is to stop celebrating women who choose to work 120 hours a week when they have a new baby. It’s been forty years since we have been able to say publicly that someone needs to stay home with a baby, forty years of feminism rammed down everyone’s throat. We need new ideas for the lives of women. Women should be able to be celebrated for making a wide range of choices. If Marissa Mayer stepped down to take care of her baby, would people say Marissa Mayer is a poster girl?
Women are driven to take care of children. Pew Research reports that the majority of women would like to work part-time, not full-time. This is important information because it means the role model for women will work part-time. The media needs to stop pretending that women want huge jobs while they are raising kids. It is not interesting to discuss what Marissa Mayer will do as a mom. Given the choice, very few women would ever choose to go back to work after two weeks.
On top of that, Mayer has never even had a baby before. So we now have a spokesperson for mothers at work who has never even been a mother. And if she goes back to work two weeks after she has a baby, she will have very little sense of what being a mom is like in the way that most of us are being moms—that is, sapping our energy for our kids. You can’t do that in a job like running Yahoo. A person does not have that kind of energy.
You can have kids and not let them sap your energy. It can be done. Very few women would want it, so why do we bother talking about it as something inspirational? The media is stuck in the 1970s. Reporting about women in business is stuck in the 1970s. I’m bored by it and you should be too.
What should we be interested in? What is not 1972 all over again? Here are tactics for a post-feminist generation:
1. Marry rich and spend your husband’s money to fund your own startup so you have a part-time job after you have kids. The poster-girl for this is Fred Wilson’s wife who is now an investor. But tons of VCs I know have told me about “my wife’s new app” and almost everyone I know in this position does not want to be called out for it. But it’s all over the place.
2. Go back to school when you have young kids to get a PhD. Not because you’ll do anything with it, but because you’ve been a high-achieving intellectual your whole life and the lack of an endgame for raising kids is disconcerting. So you create a goal for yourself that is manageable while you have kids and you meet it. This also serves to present you with a wide array of fascinating conversations with smart people, which is totally lacking in the world of small kids all day long.
3. Have kids very early. When you’re 25. Really. I think it will work. Women who do that are in a great position to ramp up their career during their 40s, when their kids are gone. Having kids early avoids the difficult pattern of building a career, scaling back a career, and building all over again. Having kids early means you only ramp up once.
4. Quit and stay at a big job. This is when you don’t leave your big job physically, but you do it in your sleep. Literally. You cut back on your hours without getting permission, which you can do because you were working 14 hour days before the baby. You do not initiate new projects, you refuse almost all travel, and you don’t ask for a raise. You see how long you can stay in the high-level job and spend time with your baby and not get fired. Eventually, people will either write you off as dead corporate wood and leave you alone at work, or they will fire you. Either way, it’s a good way to see if you can hold on to the rung you climbed up to and still take care of your kids as much as you want to. Look around the office. You’ll see tons of women doing quit and stay. They’re waiting until their kids get older and then they’ll switch jobs and ramp up and go back to climbing the ladder.
These are just four examples. I see a lot more. There are a lot of innovations from women at work who are determined to take care of kids and have an interesting life at the same time.
And now is a great time to plug my new book: The New American Dream: Blueprint for a New Path to Success. Because the new American Dream is about having an interesting life, not making a lot of money. And women who have kids want to have a part of that dream. We don’t want to get left behind intellectually; we want to be part of all the innovation going on in the world. It’s old-fashioned to think this means we have to leave a newborn baby in someone else’s arms to go back to work and run companies.