July 17, 2012
On Monday, Yahoo announced its selection of Marissa Mayer, former Google vice president of location and local services, as its new CEO. Mere hours later, public disclosure of Mayer's pregnancy revived a lively discussion about the capabilities and public perception of pregnant women in the workforce. Optimistic comments about what Mayer's simultaneous pregnancy and CEO position at Yahoo mean for working women who want to start a family, along with questions about the continuing presence of workplace discrimination against pregnant employees, have peppered the Internet and blogosphere this week.
As reported by Fortune, Mayer received the offer to become Yahoo's CEO on June 18. Mayer had disclosed her pregnancy to Yahoo executives in late June, prior to their final offer of the CEO position. Fortune noted that none of the Yahoo board members expressed any qualms or misgivings about hiring a pregnant CEO, a move that Mayer believes "[shows] their evolved thinking."
According to Life Inc., Mayer's work-oriented approach and plans to take minimal time off post-pregnancy may have factored into Yahoo's lack of concern about how her impending motherhood might impact her work performance. The struggling company's decision to hire a pregnant CEO has sparked debates amongst tech and business experts regarding Mayer's ability to turn the company towards success with her attentions divided between business and family. Technology analyst Rob Enderle told Life Inc., "Turning Yahoo around is likely going to be a near impossible task; [...] you add to that the stress of having a child and the result could be catastrophic for one or the other." Yet Enderle also expresses a qualified optimism, commenting that Mayer might, by necessity, create a strong team at Yahoo to support her during her pregnancy and beyond.
Interestingly, TechCrunch reports that Mayer appears to be the first pregnant CEO of a publicly traded Fortune 500 tech company, an impressive feat that sets an important precedent for working women both nationally and internationally. If Mayer is able to turn Yahoo towards success, she will prove to the American corporate world, as well as the general public, that motherhood does not disqualify a woman from being an effective business leader.
Life Inc. notes that Mayer's situation, while inspirational, is an anomaly, and her success does not discount the workplace discrimination that women still face in America. According to Eden King, a professor of psychology at George Mason University and an expert on women's issues in the workplace, many working women still feel compelled to conceal their pregnancies from their colleagues and supervisors for fear that their potential for promotions and the security of their jobs will be compromised. Life Inc. also reports that the past ten years have seen a 15 percent increase in the number of pregnancy discrimination charges, a rise that motivated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to host a public hearing to address the issue. While government actions such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of May 2012 have worked to reduce workplace prejudice against pregnant women, many individuals and associations believe that more measures need to be made to ensure equal employment and advancement opportunities for women in the corporate world.
Compiled by Kaitlin Louie
"Marissa Mayer: The First Ever Pregnant CEO Of A Fortune 500 Tech Company?" techcrunch.com, July 16, 2012, Colleen Taylor
"New Yahoo CEO Mayer is pregnant," postcards.blogs.fortune.com, July 16, 2012, Patricia Sellers
"New Yahoo CEO says she'll work through maternity leave," lifeinc.today.msnbc.msn.com, July 17, 2012, Eve Tahmincioglu