Does she set a bad example for other working women by planning to return to work in a few weeks after birth and working from home?
The news that Yahoo knowingly chose a pregnant woman as its new CEO has rightly been heralded by working women and their allies as another hole in the glass ceiling. Marissa Mayer, until now a top executive at Google, reports that when she told Yahoo's board of directors that she and her husband are expecting their first child in October, no one expressed any second thoughts about hiring her. The lack of reaction "showed their evolved thinking," she said.
But Mayer's next sentence immediately squashed any illusions that her presence at Yahoo foreshadows any change in corporate America's 24/7 work culture. "My maternity leave," she told reporters, "will be a few weeks long, and I'll work throughout it."
Mayer's assurance that having a child will require so little adjustment in her work schedule has led many women to worry that she is naive about the physical and emotional price she will pay for taking so little time to recuperate and bond with her new baby. Others express concern that her child will suffer for her decision.
But Mayer's insistence that she will get back to work so quickly sets a bad precedent for Yahoo's lower-level employees, mothers and fathers, who do not have the job flexibility and cannot afford the extensive social support and backup systems that Mayer and her husband will be able to construct.
Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, argues that the personal work-life choices of top leaders in a workplace are as important as their formal work-life programs and policies in shaping expectations about what is and is not acceptable. Leaders who take little time off for family create a work culture that inhibits lower-level employees from asking for any work-family rearrangements they may need.
It's great that corporate leaders no longer assume a high-powered female employee will lose her brain, drive and work commitment when she gets pregnant. And I admire Mayer for feeling free to set a high priority upon her work commitments without succumbing to the guilt that weighs down so many working moms. But it might be better for the rest of us working parents, who don't have the same resources and support systems, if she would take a longer leave and maintain a dignified silence about just how many work hours she puts in during it.