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The Real Problem With Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Leave Decision

Photograph by Instagram

Congratulations are in order for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, her husband, Zack Bogue, and the couple's almost-3-year-old son, Macallister. The $42-million-a-year woman announced Tuesday on her Tumblr that she's pregnant again.

However, instead of news headlines including just the delightful details (identical twin girls, healthy pregnancy, due in December), the reports have been largely, if not subtly, framed in a more judgmental manner and focused on her limited maternity leave, including headline phrases ilke "Mayer says she will take limited time away" or "plans 'limited' time off work" or even "reveals she is pregnant with twins - but will be back at work in two weeks despite giving staff 16 weeks maternity leave."

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While some of the spins are valid, given shareholders will wonder how the potential prolonged absence of their CEO will affect stock prices, others are easily taking a dig at a woman prioritizing the boardroom over babies.

When Mayer gave birth in 2012, she was only about a month into her new position at Yahoo, which is why she said she was taking just two weeks off instead of a more extended leave. Fortunately for her, she had the clout to have a nursery constructed for Macallister adjacent to her office.

However, they were two moves that drew a great deal of criticism: (1) A nursery for her baby right around the same time she ordered all remote Yahoo employees to start reporting to the office regularly, and (2) only taking two weeks off, and thereby risking making other working moms look like slackers if they didn't similarly jump right back into the 9-5 grind shortly after bringing a new life into the world.

When has there ever been headlines about a male CEO preparing to welcome a new baby and his planned paternity leave was an issue?

In the ensuing years, there have been some strides made for new working moms, including at companies such as Yahoo, where maternity and paternity leaves are now 16 and 8 weeks respectively. However, the trend of more perks for parents is mostly limited to tech companies, where the competition for top talent is fierce. That means lower-paid employees, and often employees with less education, are still left with a dilemma after welcoming a new baby into their lives.

According to the Department of Labor, only 13 percent of employees in the United States have any kind of paid maternity or paternity leave. In These Times recently crunched a bunch of new data and statistics and found that, like Mayer, 23 percent of working moms also only take two weeks of maternity leave, but not because they can't wait to get back to work or their boards of directors can't imagine the company without them; no, it's because these new moms can't afford to stay current with their rent or mortgage, keep their refrigerators stocked or pay health insurance bills otherwise.

The fact is that Mayer and other high-ranking working women will almost always have access to flexible work time, nannies and private preschools and after-school enrichment activities, whereas women lower down on the chain of command will not only have fewer options, but also leaner bank accounts to help them work around their schedules.

That's why it seems incongruous to to not only discuss Mayer as men in her position would never be talked about (when has there ever been headlines about a male CEO preparing to welcome a new baby and his planned paternity leave was an issue?), but also to not recognize that Mayer does, in fact, have choices—and she's choosing work over family.

Just because Mayer is opting for a scenario that many other working moms would not, doesn't make her decision any less valid as a businesswoman or mom. And just because other women have fewer scenarios from which to choose after they also give birth, doesn't make it Mayer's fault. It's hard to imagine a supermarket manager, bank supervisor, hospital administrator or school principal looking at their cashier, teller, physician's assistant or janitor and saying, "Well, if Marissa Mayer can do it, so can you."

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No, comparing the female head of a high-profile tech company and virtually all other working women is apples-to-oranges. Mayer is choosing to stay competitive in her position while knowing she can more than afford the help to juggle her new gaggle of kids. Most other working moms need choices like Mayer's—and what all working moms need are no judgments once they make them.

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