When Being Pregnant Is Still Newsworthy

It was at first a surprise to me to see this headline: “New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is pregnant”. Was this really newsworthy? But it became clear very quickly that the story was significant, if only for the fact that it reveals some of the challenges still faced by women in the workplace.

As reported by Fortune, Ms. Mayer has known of her pregnancy since January when she was still with Google, got the initial call from Yahoo in mid-June and disclosed her pregnancy in late June:

Mayer first disclosed to the Yahoo board that she is pregnant in late June, in a meeting with Michael Wolf, a member of the board’s four-person CEO search committee. A meeting with the search committee followed, and then Mayer met with the full board last Wednesday. None of the Yahoo directors, she says, revealed any concern about hiring a pregnant chief executive. “They showed their evolved thinking,” says Mayer, who got the phone call last Thursday that she was the board’s choice to be CEO.

Looking at the number of news articles and commentaries that have been published online today alone on this very topic is astonishing. It has sparked surprise and discussions about what a forward step this is, as Ms. Mayer may be the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 tech company. Not surprisingly, it has raised the question once more of what it means for women to have both a career and a family in the 21st century. 

It may not come as surprise then that Ms. Mayer will take but a few weeks off as maternity leave, with the intention of working throughout them.

 

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Comments

  1. It raises an interesting securities law question. Is disclosure of the pregnancy of a CEO of a public company (or for that matter any executive) part of full, plain and true disclosure?

    A lot of people would argue “yes”.

    There was a lot of discussion about this when Steve Jobs had his first cancer scare, when Apple took the view that Jobs’ privacy trumped investors’ right to know about his health.

  2. Sara R. Cohen, Fertility Law Canada

    Mike,

    I understand your point about disclosure to investors, but I think it is a shame that people in general view pregnancy in the same light as cancer, for example. Cancer is a critical illness, while pregnancy is a normal part of a woman’s lifecycle, if she so chooses. If we are going to have women in the workplace, we are going to have to accept that pregnancy comes with the territory and stop viewing it as an illness of sorts.

  3. She might very well have to work immediately. We might be able to figure out why this is the case by reading a recent article.

    According to the Globe and Mail’s Angie Mohr – “The U.S. has one of the poorest support systems for pregnant women and new mothers in the world. The Canadian system, on the other hand, provides at least a partial ongoing income for almost a year to give families time to adjust to the new addition, as well as a guarantee of re-employment after a lengthy leave.” (May. 16 2012 : Benefits:Maternity leave basics: Canada vs. the U.S.)

    As well, a dispassionate view of contemporary US labour relations leads one to bear witness to US private and public sector employers pushing back conditions to pre-Wagner.

    This reaction may be in part because, as the BLS published in 2010, roughly 50% of total job openings in the next 10 years will require no more than or less than a high school education. These “careers” are almost exclusively to be found in the service sector: hair stylists, bartenders, waiters, etc. It is unclear at this point how the knowledge economy intersects with the job market.

  4. Sara, I didn’t mean to compare pregnancy to cancer in any medical sense – I agree with your points completely. Pregnancy is not an illness.

    My only point is that pregnancy is a deeply personal and private matter that may also be material to investors, and in that respect Jobs’ illness is a was a catalyst for discussion on the tension between privacy and securities disclosure.