As if Marissa Mayer didn't already have enough scrutiny coming her way after landing her biggest and toughest gig yet, the new CEO of Yahoo announced another major personnel move: She's having a baby. Just hours after the world learned that Google's star engineer had been plucked to take over one of its biggest rivals, Mayer told Fortune that she's expecting her first child, a boy, this October.
Obviously, Yahoo was made aware of her pregnancy and had no problem bringing in a top executive who will need a few weeks off not long after starting. But it doesn't take a giant leap of imagination to see that Mayer will now become the poster mom for the "can women have it all?" debate. We just went through the most recent round of this thanks to Anne-Marie Slaughter's super-viral piece in The Atlantic last month that seemed to have everyone drawing lines in the sand over the contentious and long-standing debates about parenting, sexism, and the dreaded "work-life balance." (Oddly enough, Slaughter appeared on The Colbert Report last night, but the show was likely taped too early for her to comment on Mayer's hire.)
To some it may seem as if Mayer is already in a no-win situation. Taking over a near-impossible turnaround project — the struggling company has now had five CEOs in just the last year — almost feels like she's being set up to fail, a prospect that would delight naysayers who think women don't have what it takes to run a major corporation or that they only get attention because they're a pretty, blonde "geek girl." But now she's not just fighting for all women, she's fighting for all the moms out there too. Both her "children" will be raised in the spotlight of a celebrity/tech/business culture that makes every success or a failure into a mission statement. She'll have plenty of support, but plenty of Monday morning quarterbacks, too.
Of course, as Slaughter herself pointed out on Twitter last night, Mayer's appointment is huge leap forward that may help to shift the culture for working women, not just at Yahoo, but across Silicon Valley. However, even if Mayer does now have it all, she still exemplifies everything that most working women are not — she's a rockstar, she's wealthy, and (now) she's her own boss. She's already stated that she'll work through her maternity leave and Yahoo has reportedly moved its September board meeting from New York to Sunnyvale to accommodate her pregnancy. How many other Yahoo moms get the same kind of consideration?
@hannahbsampson read the piece -- women who are having it all are superhuman, rich, and in charge. I'm all for Marissa Mayer! but the norm?— Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) July 17, 2012