Priority seating for Pregnant CEOs?

Last week, Yahoo appointed their 5th CEO in 5 years. They have chosen an outstanding candidate. Two degrees in Computer Science from Stanford, glittering, revered career with Google and value backed-up with the fact that at just 37 years old, the new CEOs remuneration will be significantly in excess of $1million per month.

As you’d expect, the appointment has hit the headline….more public vilification for overpaid CEOs then?  No.  There are two factors that have outweighed even the might of the Shareholder Spring…..

The new CEO is Female.

She’s 6 months pregnant.

The public reaction to Marissa Mayer’s appointment was initially very polite. Congratulations on her impending arrival (the little boy, due in October, 3 months after taking the helm at the beleaguered Tech group) and slightly less so on her own ‘arrival’ as a Fortune 500 CEO; an appointment that also makes her the youngest current Fortune 500 CEO. Then people’s real colours came out.

Everyone is an expert when it comes to Recruitment
Everyone is an expert when it comes to Executive Pay
….and Everyone is an expert on bringing up children

Combine the three, and Marissa is at the butt end of everyone’s advice, and it seems at the butt end of everyone’s judgement.

Let’s get this clear from the start – I think it’s a great hire.

Having faced huge criticism from the business fraternity (although clearly not the board at Yahoo who selected her) for her ‘naivety’ in thinking she could run a Fortune 500 business and manage soiled nappies together (I won’t enter into the parallels that could be drawn…) she truthfully and defensively announced that she would be an effective working mother, taking just a few weeks maternity leave before returning to work, and working remotely throughout much, if not most of that leave.

That in turn saw the anger of both the feminist fraternity and the traditionalist fraternity who decided that was a bad example for anyone even thinking of having children. Yahoo were next in the firing line, accused of merely going for the PR angle of hiring an expectant mother, ignoring Melissa’s obvious credentials.

Marissa can’t win, and certainly can’t appease any more than a small fraction of people. She has had her entire life motivation questioned beyond the level that anyone should, when all she is doing is pursuing a career (and doing so very successfully).

She is a great example for working mothers (who a Stanford University study calculated were 79% less likely to be hired, 100% less likely to be promoted and would be offered $11,000 less in salary), but has anyone thought that perhaps she just wants to lead and reverse the fortunes of one of the world’s largest Tech businesses and not become a ‘vital spokesperson’ just because she happens to be pregnant?

Even former director for policy planning at the US state department has come out and had a go criticising Marissa’s suggestion of working throughout her maternity (the so-called 4th Trimester) claiming it was breeding a poor workplace culture obsessed with long-hours and ‘face-time’.

Then of course you have the worst criticism possible; The Ignorant. The ‘We know best’. The World’s authority on being a parent……The Super-Mum.  These are a very similar breed to the revolting shareholders. They’ve had some experience (although often not), read a few blogs and now feel perfectly able to critique everyone else’s actions.

The number of open letters and blogs that have been penned by motherhood champions, most of whom have no grasp on what it takes to be a Fortune 500 CEO, or what personality of person strives as hard as Marissa to attain that level, by the age of 37. They sit in their self-described perfect motherhood guise, deriding the professional mums; the mums that regularly go to the gym; the mums who dare to take time away from the child to at least try and look after themselves; scoff at mums that have any aspirations beyond sitting in crappy coffee shops with processed sugar ‘nutrition’ along with other hyper-competitive super-mums and generally pour scorn on any new mum who dares to consider their own well-being even alongside that of their child.

…..“They must be weird”, “Shouldn’t have had children” etc – usually said in-between mouthfuls of low-fat triple chocolate muffin and a large caramel hot-chocolate (with whip) ….and as a respite from the discussion about how difficult it is to shift baby weight.

Yet all these people feel perfectly placed to advise one of the world’s brightest humans (note, not just world’s brightest women) on how she should juggle her life as a Fortune 500 CEO and a mum. Telling her to have more maternity leave (maybe she doesn’t want to?), telling her not to be afraid of talking about work life balance (Maybe she has? Maybe she’s happy with it?), telling her there will be a rush of emotions as she gives birth…. (really?) etc.  Forgetting that this immensely bright person isn’t stupid and will have considered a LOT of things already.

I have witnessed firsthand what a woman can and can’t do when she has just had a baby. My daughter was born 6 weeks early and 4 days after we’d moved house. She nearly died when she was less than a week old and the correction of that caused her to be really quite ill for several months. It was a VERY trying time – but my wife is very intelligent, as am I. Accordingly we surrounded ourselves with similarly intelligent/experienced people and not only managed, but did well. The backbone of that whole period (and the factor that saved our daughter’s life) was the gut instinct of my wife; my daughter’s mum. “Mum knows best”.

These super-mums are as naive as the professional detractors. Marissa is bright, really bright. She has made a career out of exceptional planning and ability to cope with whatever has been thrown at her in an immensely fast paced, changeable environment – ok, I again have seen firsthand that nothing truly prepares you for parenthood, and the change that it suddenly brings on your life, but she is more than capable of coping than most.

From a practical perspective, Marissa already has a net worth reputed to be in the region of $300m, so she doesn’t need to work. (sound familiar? see Replacing Bob Diamond Blog). Even her base salary of $1m per month will mean she is nothing like as stressed a new mother as most, she will be in a position to employ an army of assistants to cater for every whim, child based or otherwise. These same people will call that cheating. I call it well organised, observed by the envious.

So does this mean we should all employ pregnant women? No. We should all employ the best person for the role, and the person with the best attitude.  Marissa has it, without question. But do businesses that go above and beyond for women (and men) entering parenthood really reap the rewards? Jaguar LandRover has long since been very vocal that it gives every pregnant employee full wages for a year whilst on maternity leave. That is hugely commendable, but does it really benefit the business? Certainly not as much as recruiting the best people – people with the best attitude would do.

Rightly or wrongly, women who have several extended periods away from work suffer on the route to the boardroom. Sylvia Ann Hewlett conducted a study and found that in countries where women got a less generous maternity allowance, there were a far greater number of women on boards of directors. Her research also showed that a woman who took more than 2 years off lost 18% of her earning power, whereas 6 months away had no effect on earnings whatsoever.

But the same thing happens to men who choose to take more than 12 months off from the workplace, this is not a female centric issue.

Part of Hewlett’s findings will be skewed by those mothers who choose to take a lower employment status as part of a plan to spend time with their children – but equally, we have to respect those that have a different desire, and super-mum has to respect that. Career advancement is obviously not the be-all-and-end-all for all those entering motherhood, but it is important to respect that for some, like with many men, it is a very important component.

Despite Marissa being only the 20th female Fortune 500 CEO, and despite the proof that a mixed board can have great impact on financial performance, it is easy to see why women are dissuaded from being career ambitious. When even the feminist and ‘mum’ movements denigrate the rise of someone with Marissa’s capability, it will do more harm to female corporate aspirations than anything, as will the negativity that is surrounding her ability to lead Yahoo.

It has been said that female CEOs sit on a glass cliff. Having smashed through the (imaginary?) glass ceiling, they find themselves in a very precarious position, usually a position that leaves them more likely to take blame for lower than expected company performance, less likely to claim credit for better. A UK survey (here) highlighted that appointing a female CEO typically sparked an increase in share price after appointment. And yet such an appointment is still criticised.

Female leaders need to be strong, but they need to not try and be Men. Men displaying ‘balls’ are revered, celebrated and declared as strong leaders. Women who do likewise lay open to immense criticism, yet some of the best leaders are women.

Margaret Thatcher; irrespective of your views on her politics and policies, was arguably the best leader this country has had. The same occurs in business. My pal Theo Paphitis has been criticised for highlighting the strength of WHSmith’s Kate Swann (in preference to self-styled retail expert Mary Portas), yet it is Kate that has led her business to be profitable and survived when everyone said it wouldn’t.

Marissa is an outlier – her actions are making salacious headlines, but she is the capable CEO; 99.9% of her detractors are not. Her situation is such that these detractors are unable to comment from a point of intelligence. Her position of ultimate choice in her return to work is being as controlled and planned as her immensely impressive career.

Others are less fortunate. Robyn Roche-Paull, the military author of the powerful book “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots” tells her story of going back to work after six weeks after giving birth to her son, simply because it was required. When her son wouldn’t take a bottle, she co-slept with him so he could nurse all night and sleep all day while she was at work. If that doesn’t bring a lump to your throat I would check your heart is beating.

Robyn was revered for being a warrior, not in the military sense, in the ‘mum’ sense. She did what needed to be done. Is there a better raison-d’être for a CEO?

Marissa Mayer will be an awesome CEO. Not because she is a woman, not because she is pregnant…..simply because, as with most leaders, she is the best Man for the job.

39 Comments on “Priority seating for Pregnant CEOs?”

  1. Great Blog Gary. I’ve followed this story with interest and am encouraged by your comments. Mayer has a big job ahead of her and she is at a testing time of her life. I hope, for everyone’s sake, she is as good as you say.

    Does beg the question though, would you shortlist a pregnant candidate?

  2. Another great blog Gary. Not sure I wholly agree with everything you say. As someone in the investment community I would have reservations about a CEO that was going to go off for a few month less than 3 months into her tenure, but you do make a compelling argument.

    Does this mean you sign up to the head-hunters code of having 25% of shortlists made up with women?

  3. I’m sorry, wonderful comments you make but this woman is unfit to be a mother. What life is her son going to have? A mother that is never there, brought up by an army of paid helpers, he won’t know who Mommy is. Its disgraceful. Why have kids if you aren’t going to give them a life. It’s not all about money.

  4. Good Blog, but is this women working part-time for the first year really the best “man” for the job? Surely someone only 75% as good but available for 100% of the time would be a better option in the short term, and lets face it, she is unlikley to last more than 12 months on past history with Yahoo.

    Then what happens when she wants a 2nd child?

    This is more about the desire to get PR in employing a pregnant women and the corporate obsession with youth. At 37, what experience has she got in running such a large business, especially one in such dire straights. How many better qualified, older men were overlooked to hit the multiple PC tags?

    Hopefully the 6th CEO will be a more normal hire.

  5. Great Blog Gary, and not what I expected! It think it is encouraging to see Yahoo make such a move and all credit to her for being outspoken with regards to her objectives. Proper girl power.

    Good luck Marissa, well done Gary.


  6. Gary, loved this blog. I work for Yahoo and we are real excited about having Marissa on board. I understand the concerns many folks have regarding the appointment, but already Marissa has been a great acquisition for us. Within the organisation, there were significant concerns about her leave, but as was highlighted to us, a CEO, or VP for that matter, does not have to be ever present.

    I am comforted that a man in your position and in your industry can see past the unimportant factors and focus on the best possible solution for our business.

    Well done.

  7. Good read, interesting topic. I can’t make my mind up whether recruiting someone knowing they are going off for a few months, 3 months in (and the potential that she may simoly never come back) is a smart move or not. Wouldn’t it have been better to have waited 6 months and see what happens? Get a consultant in?

    Dunno, but I like your points and I didn’t think you would fall down on the supporting side given your other comments and topics!

    Well done for being open and structured in your thoughts.


  8. I’m sorry, your points are all very good, and positive responses are very welcome when it comes to women in business, but this woman is a disgrace. She has $300m personal wealth and still want to take on a rediculously engaging job when she has a brand new baby.

    I follow your tweets etc Gary and I can see how hard you are working and how many hours you are putting in for your new venture. To willfully take that on with a brand new baby (when you don’t need to work) is morally indefensible.

  9. Another great blog Gary. I did wonder how long it would take for you to comment, but all due respect for taking a different stance. The points made are very good, I do still think you are in the minority in your full support for Ms Mayer, but well done for speaking out, again.

  10. Great blog Gary. I’m always going to be supportive of women in business, but you’ve made some very astute observations from a point of neutrality, brilliantly written as always.

    Keep it up.

  11. Interesting blog and doesn’t seen to be in keeping with the stance you normally take? The appointment of a woman, pregnant with her first child AND with such a net worth that not only does she not need to work, but that the remuneration she is to receive will not materially change her financial position, is very very brave. There has got to be a huge risk that she will just up sticks and leave if the role becomes tough?

  12. Was she REALLY the best person for the job? Do you not think there was just a small element of positive PR to be had from going for the pregnant option?

    In this age of media and public opinion being more important than specific performance, you can’t blame a business for pandering to that, but Ms Mayer’s appointment IS because she is a pregnant woman.

  13. Great blog Gary. The story IS great PR for Yahoo and god knows they need it right now. Whether Mayer proves to be a great hire, well only time and the health/happiness of her child will likely tell. I wouldn’t take a bet on it though.

  14. I’m a CEO for a major brand, although not in Yahoo league. As Gary says, and has said on several occasions the role of a CEO is all encompassing role and far more than a nine-to-five. It will need massive commitment, but this woman knows that and will have been working in that style for many years already. She will know if her support network will be able to take the extra pressure of a child. If she is as bright as Gary says, her response will be not only better informed but also simply better. Good luck to her regardless.

  15. Great blog Gary, really enjoyed reading it. The topic is very contentious and has divided opinion with everyone I’ve spoken with. I’m on the same page as you. She should be trusted and left to get on with the not-insurmountable job in hand.

  16. Great to hear the sentiment in the UK about this. I’m based in the US and to us this is nothing remarkable aside from such a young person getting such a great opportunity. Motherhood doesn’t have to stop all other aspects of life. It’s not a disease.

  17. Reading this straight after your Bob Diamond blog and totally agree with you on this one. She is an inspiration and an example that should be followed.

  18. Great blog, the PR potential of this is immense and the sceptic would say this was a driver for a consumer business in trouble. I@m sure in part it was a consideration, but I hope Marissa is not just a publicity stunt that will disappear once she become a Mother.

  19. Inspiring, very well written Blog Gary. The whole tale is very inspirational and to see such an attitude from Yahoo, whether a desperation measure or not, is fantastic. Good luck to them both and well done on a great blog Gary.

  20. Regardless of how great you think she is, and what an inspiration she is I think she is a deplorable human being. Working mums work because they have to put food on the table. Every minute I am away from MY little boy breaks my heart and I rush back to see him, to be with him, and to SHOW him how much I love him at ever possible opportunity.

    This woman has no NEED to work, she could and SHOULD put the next year or two (or 10+) into her son and ensure HE gets the quality of life he will so greatly crave. With her current wealth, she could give him EVERYTHING she could possibly want and never work again. To dump him on an army of helpers is disgusting.

  21. CEO goes on Mat leave, comes back, resumes job.


    It’s what any male CEO would do? If she is the best MAN for the job, she will put her job and her corporate responsibilities first and let her ‘partner’ pick up the pieces like any other CEO would do.

  22. Came across this whilst searching through background information on Louise Mench. Very interesting opinion, and especially given much of your other commentary gives the impression of, dare I say, being more traditional, capitalisy and anti-feminist (not saying being as far as Chauvanist though!).

    The comments are as refreshing as they are interesting. I trust your clients appreciate them as much as I have done.

  23. This is a non topic. The fact that people are even bothered about a woman getting such a job is immoral. Are working mums really such a lesser breed?

  24. Picking up on comments above regarding Louise Mench, are we saying that being a Yahoo CEO is easier to fit in that being a Tory MP? Or that Louise is a better Mum than Marissa?

  25. Seeing Louise Mensch willingly throw her career away to defer to her children is a wonderful thing to see. She has put her family first and focussed on her family’s welbeing above her own ego.

    Ms Mayer could learn a thing or two.

  26. Drawing comparisons with Louise Mensch is unfortunate. Yes both has successful careers, but one has one child, or will have, and has worked hard to acheive the ultimate corporate big time, and sacrificng her opwn life to get there (and amassing a $300m fortune in the process).

    The other was a novelist that semi retired and took up a vocation to be an MP. She also has THREE children.

    I think they have both made the right choices – they have both done what THEY want to do, and what THEY think is best.

    Good luck to them both.


  27. One difference between Mayer and Mensch.

    Mayer has joined a sinking ship, Mensch has left one.

    Who is the smarter?

  28. Well said Gary! I’m sure she’ll do a better job than all of her predecessors, because she’s one of the few people in the world that has the experience of being at the head of a ship that’s sailed a clear course through similar waters. Also I suspect there are underlying reasons why Mensch has decided to step down from being an MP.

  29. Great blog!

    Picked up on this from your tweet asking if Louise Mensch’s departure had done damage to the working women ‘movement’. Although I lean towards feminism, I can’t help but this it probably has, and unfortunately, much as Marissa as quoted here has done a lot FOR women in business, Louise’s move will have done far far more the other way, I’ve already heard commentators say “Proof that hiring women with children is a risky move”. Shame but you can’t help but see why they think that way.

    Good blog though.

  30. Louise Mensch has single-handedly put women’s rights in business back 25 years. She has demonstrated that no matter how important your job is, or how vital your contribution to your own country, your husband’s needs and objectives are automatically more important. Shame on her. She was bad news for the country, now bad news for woemsn rights.

  31. What a ridiculous state of affairs. One ‘mum’ gets a job and can only manage it by raw deserting her child for most of his waking hours. Another, living in a more normal world, tries to juggle work and children but at the first sign of trouble, has to jack it all in.

    Even more ridiculous, this woman that was leading our country and a voice for the UK has caved at the first hurdle when her husband has snapped his fingers, running to join him at his side while he plays ‘rock-star’.

    Some of us have no choice. We have to work AND look after our kids. And yet we seem to manage just fine!

    Well done ladies, you have just made women’s rights look like a farce.

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  33. Interesting topic – so a women does what business wants, and feminists campaign should be done more often and promptly gets derided, not by these so-called bigoted men, but by the feminists that habe complained about there being not enough women in leadership roles.

    Well done Marissa for following your own path and ignoring argumentative factions.

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  35. The best hire I ever did was a lady who was 8 months pregnant when I interviewed her. It worked both ways, I secured an advantage in a competitive marketplace by attracting somebody to an organisation somebody of her calibre would never have looked at. She sorted herself out with an employer who was prepared to give and take. She never failed to deliver.

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