Saturday 1 November 2014

Pregnant pause

Returning to work within weeks after giving birth is now increasingly common among corporate high-fliers. So where does that leave all the other women for whom maternity leave is a necessity and not a luxury, asks Suzanne Harrington

On October 1, the boss of Yahoo became a parent. On October 25, the same boss posted a photograph of a business deal on Twitter.

The photo was subsequently picked up by a British newspaper, who ran a story around the boss's appearance.

Why? Because the boss of Yahoo is a woman, and the fact that she appeared physically slim in the picture was deemed newsworthy.

"Wearing a blue striped dress, she showed off an impressively slender waist that other new mothers are sure to envy," one newspaper reported.

Never mind the 37-year-old CEO's latest business acquisition -- look at her body. Judge and compare.

Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo boss, had a baby son at the start of the month. It is not her waist, however, which is of interest, but her statement to 'Fortune' magazine, before she gave birth: "My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I'll work throughout it."

Here is a super-successful woman who appears to misunderstand the meaning of 'leave'; being on leave means not working. Why is she not taking any?

Journalist Kristie Lu Stout of CNN International, who also has one child, wrote an open letter to Mayer, in reaction to Mayer's decision to work through her maternity leave.

"Like other working moms, I kind of wish you didn't say that... but I can see why you did," she wrote.

"You want to prove yourself. You want to hit the ground running and keep up the sprint even through the so-called fourth trimester.

"But maternity leave is not a vacation or a cop-out from your new post. It's the first precious weeks to invest in a being who is completely dependent on you."

Commonsense appeal to Mayer not to sacrifice bonding with her baby, or passive-aggressive judgement call?

Both are successful 37-year-old San Franciscans at the top of their game, with one child each. Were they both men, would such a letter ever have been written? Of course not.

"Society was willing to overlook the fact that women were NOT men and nonetheless permit them to reach higher rungs on the career ladder -- rungs that had always been reserved exclusively for men -- provided that these women at least acted like men in certain key ways," writes Pesoli.

"Men don't give birth. Men don't take maternity leave. Men don't pump breast milk. Men don't stay home when their kids are sick.

"In short, if women wanted to have careers similar to the ones men have always enjoyed, women were expected to act like men. A fair number of women accepted these terms and some moved into key positions as a result."

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