Mayer's Pregnancy Spawns Web Debate

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's ability to be mother and executive being discussed..

By Aliyah Mohammed
|  Thursday, Jul 19, 2012  |  Updated 10:41 AM PDT
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The web's abuzz with just that question after Marissa Mayer, the newly selected CEO of Yahoo, announced her pregnancy on Twitter Monday. She also announced her plan to take a few weeks' maternity leave, but to work during that time.

The web's abuzz with just that question after Marissa Mayer, the newly selected CEO of Yahoo, announced her pregnancy on Twitter Monday. She also announced her plan to take a few weeks' maternity leave, but to work during that time.

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Yahoo! Appoints Googler As New CEO

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CEO and motherhood, are they mutually exclusive?

The web's abuzz with just that question after Marissa Mayer, the newly selected CEO of Yahoo, announced her pregnancy on Twitter Monday. She also announced her plan to take a few weeks' maternity leave, but to work during that time.

There are those who believe that Mayer's pregnancy will prevent her from being an effective CEO, those who believe that because of her work she will not be able to be an engaged parent, those who do not think  it matters and every variation in between.

The prominent ex-Googler is expecting a baby boy with her husband, lawyer-turned-investor Zachary Bogue.

Mayer, 37, started her new job Tuesday as Yahoo's fifth CEO in five years, and said in a tweet that she was "incredibly excited" for the role. At present, only 3 percent of Silicon Valley companies are led by women. Nationally, 41 Fortune 500 companies are headed by female executives.

On its website, Yahoo said Mayer's appointment signals a "renewed focus on product innovation to drive user experience and advertising revenue for one of the world's largest consumer Internet brands."

The "mommy war" argument has been in vogue recently, with Anne-Marie Slaughter's publication of "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" -- focusing on work/life balance for females -- in The Atlantic.

An executive at Watermark -- a non-profit executive women membership organization -- said Mayer should have nothing to answer for. 

Marilyn Nagel, Watermark's CEO, a woman should not have to justify when she leaves the office to take care of her obligations, nor should she have to fear her job is in jeopardy when she goes on maternity leave.

"If a man is leading a meeting and says he has to golf at 3 p.m. and that everything needs to be done before then it is not a big deal, but if a woman says she has to be out, then they say she is distracted," Nagel said.

Nagel says the CEOs and senior executives are part of the business world called the "corporate suite," and find balance between their personal lives and career aspirations.

According to Nagel, female executives are placed in the unenviable position of having to overcompensate at work to prove they are committed to the job, and cannot celebrate their achievement because they do not want their merits to be called into question.

"Demonstrating your commitment does not have to mean that you have to sacrifice your life," Nagel said. Employees should not be judged "based on the number of hours in the office, but based on the results they achieve."

It is the assumption that having children is a stopping point in a woman's career, hence the frenzy over Mayer's decision to continue working through her maternity leave, Nagel said.

However, when an executive reaches the level of success that Mayer has reached, running a large company "you have a support system, you learn about what you want to do and you arrange your life around the core things such as child care, elderly care and family," Nagel said.

Mayer is known for making decisions that could be perceived as extreme, such as her decision to leave the Google homepage blank.

"She is courageous and has a lens that looks at things in a holistic perspective," Nagel said. "Why not leverage the whole of her brain?"

According to Nagel, parenting and leadership have many parallels and should not be considered incompatible with each other.

"Women are known to be more inclusive in their decisions making, it is the hallmark of women's leadership," Nagel said. "The employees at Yahoo are suffering from CEO fatigue and not knowing what their future is, she is saying not only do I know where I want to go, but where do you (the workers) want to go?"

Nagel's advice to young women who aspire to become C-level executives: "It takes a lot of planning and a supportive partner. If you want to be a CEO, you have to do the prep work, diversify your knowledge base and take career risks."

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