By Judy Kroll, Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge
Late last year Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer announced she was pregnant with twins, and that she would only take minimal time off after the birth. Her announcement set off several different streams of commentary, generating much debate.
Some criticized her for only taking "limited time off" following the birth – believed to be about two weeks – arguing that it sent the wrong message to the corporate world about how female executives should be allowed to pursue professional and parental goals at the same time.
Others suggested her pregnancy came at a bad time for a company that is struggling with plummeting share prices triggered largely by a series of questionable and unsuccessful acquisitions. NYU business professor Scott Galloway went as far as to suggest the pregnancy was actually a "stay of execution" for the mercurial Mayer, who otherwise would be ripe for termination based solely on business performance.
This is not the first time Mayer’s pregnancies have made headlines. On the day she was appointed Yahoo CEO in July 2012, Mayer revealed she was pregnant, giving birth to a son, Macallister, just two months later. At that time, she took two weeks maternity leave, sparking an international debate about whether she was setting back the cause of increased maternity leave.
Mayer’s life story raises interesting questions about what all women in the working world must face when deciding whether to have a child. It also proves there is no consensus about how a woman is supposed to go about finding the balance between work and family.
Even though much of the corporate world is more enlightened about the value of generous maternity leave, women are still negatively impacted by a decision to take time off work to have a child. Research has shown us that women who take time out for a pregnancy generally earn less over the remainder of their careers and forgo the chance for promotions. It is believed to be one of the reasons why less than five percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs.
In general, Mayer’s story brings up two important scenarios that all women should consider if they choose to pursue career and family...
- You have a job and are pregnant. A solid relationship with your manager ensures an environment of trust when it’s time to reveal your pregnancy. It’s important to engage in candid career conversations to discuss your professional and personal goals to ensure your needs are aligned with the needs of the business. This will give you the best chance to keep your career moving forward without skipping a beat.
- You are looking for a job while pregnant. Pregnant women need not put their job searches on hold. But you’ll need to carefully weigh any decision to reveal your pregnancy to a potential employer. You aren’t legally required to disclose any medical information during a job search. Even so, it’s always good to look for a moment in the interviewing process when there are clear signs they like what you have to offer, and consider that as a platform for disclosure.
Many employers support women employees who want to have both a rewarding career and family life. However, finding a solution that combines work and family and offers a promising career path isn’t easy. When assessing potential employers, consider the organization’s culture and track record for supporting working moms. Weigh the benefits and drawbacks of staying in the workforce. Consider what your plan could look like, from flexible hours, to part-time employment, working from home, or taking an extended leave. Be prepared so that if you choose to have children, you don’t have to leave your job behind.
© Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge 2015.
Judy Kroll joined Lee Hecht Harrison in 1999 and is currently a Vice President, Senior Consultant working with senior level candidates in career planning and executive job search strategy.
For information about how Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge can help your organization achieve its business goals by helping your people navigate change, improve their performance, and achieve their career goals, please contact Angela Payne, Managing Director at or visit www.LHH.com.
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