Health & Wellness

Marissa Mayer's pregnancy reignites parental leave debate

There's been strong, mixed reaction to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's post-pregnancy plan to take very little time off after her identical twin girls are born. How much time off should a new parent take off? Is Mayer a role model for working mothers in management positions — or a reflection of the pressure a lot of parents feel to be on the job 24/7?

Friends and fans posting on social media say CEO Mayer is leading by example. “Love hearing great news from other successful and inspiring Mom-E-Os” Felicite Moorman wrote. “Your kids will be very lucky to have someone like you to look up to,” Jessica Waite posted.

But equally as loud was the refrain from women who say that Mayer, with nannies and a nursery in her office, isn’t very much like them. “How nice for you Marissa,” one posted under the screen name Bazinga5. “Try that with a regular job.”

No one doubts that Mayer will carry through with her plans. When she had her first child, a little boy, just months after starting as the CEO of Yahoo, she worked from home and her hospital bed and was out of work for just a week or two.

In a recent Tumbler post Mayer talked about her plans this time around: “Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time off and working throughout.”

For Sheila Darcey, a mom and part owner of a new media advertising firm, Mayer is a role model.

“When Marissa Mayer makes those kinds of decisions, she’s leading by example,” Darcey says. “ Because we have a community here and other like-minded women it makes it easier because we have people that appreciate it.”

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Should managers take full parental leave? TODAY.com readers say ‘yes’

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Still, some have pointed out that most women in America take only a short time off because they simply can’t afford to stay home longer, not because they feel they are needed to run a Fortune 500 company.

In a 2012 survey, 23 percent of women interviewed were back at work within two weeks of having a child.

“I’m really glad that Marissa has the resources and flexibility to be able to choose what’s right for her, but not everyone is so lucky,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of advocacy group MomsRising. “Only 13 percent of all people in the United States have access to some form of family leave after a new baby arrives.”

The pressure for many, though, may not only be finances. Some of those posting on social media suggested that that Mayer’s decision to return to work quickly reflects the kinds of pressures many women feel to be “at the job 24/7.”

Even Mayer seems to be saying that most parents need more time. She recently extended parental leave at Yahoo, with new mom’s being allowed to take 16 weeks of paid time off and dads and adoptive parents, getting 8 weeks.

That seems to be the trend across the country.

“A groundswell is growing in the United States of America right now with more and more companies,” Finkbeiner says. “And I might add that those are the most highly successful and profitable companies offering more and more paid family leave to new parents.”

Even with those new leave policies it’s not clear how many new parents will choose to spend much time away from work. Research has shown that even when employees are offered unlimited vacation time, they often don’t take it because they feel it might make them look as if they’re not working hard enough.

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