Beyond Balance: How Marissa Mayer Can Help Working Mothers

In her highly visible role as CEO of Yahoo combined with the impending birth of her first child, how can Marisa Mayer best help working mothers?  Although Ms. Mayer is only pregnant and we have not yet seen her approach to blending work and family, Ms. Mayer’s work-family choices might further a societal undertsanding that balance is not the only goal for working mothers.

She is, without a doubt, a remarkable business woman.  At 37, she has helped to lead Google to greatness; she has been nominated to the Wal-Mart Board of Directors and Named CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.  But she has also declared that motherhood will not impact her focus on work.   “I like to stay in the rhythm of things. My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it,” she told Fortune.

Marisa Mayer may demonstrate that mothers should have the same permission to drive high powered careers as fathers, without the expectation of being the primary parent.  Having children does not make one unfit to be CEO.  Having a child does not automatically dictate that a person will decrease the focus or time devoted to a job.  Women should have the opportunity to choose career as their priority without judgment.   Men have done this for generations.

Among female CEOs of fortune 500 companies, and there are now 20, the vast majority have children.  Carol Bartz, a recent Yahoo CEO, has 3 children.   But most of these women are clear that they have prioritized career over childrearing and have established infrastructure at home to relieve them from many day to day childcare responsibilities.  As a CEO of a major company, you probably aren’t working part-time and may miss a child’s baseball game.  When the CEO is a woman, this may be criticized as absentee parenting.  Many of these women have husbands who stepped out of the workforce.  These husbands support their wives career ambition and the needs of children at home.

As a society, we continue to judge these women more harshly, than their male counter-parts.  Will Ms. Mayer prioritize work-family balance?  Probably not.  Should she?  Not necessarily.  Did Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Lou Gerstner?

Let’s keep an open mind as we watch this story unfold.