Marissa Mayer was announced yesterday as the new CEO of Yahoo Inc. At 37, Marissa is the youngest female CEO of any Fortune 500 company, and by the way, she’s six months pregnant. Yahoo should be commended for the significant risk they took hiring a pregnant woman for any senior position, let alone the company’s top leader. Right?
Or, one could argue, lauding Yahoo for hiring a pregnant woman is akin to thanking your employees for coming in to work on time every day. It’s just what’s expected. I would like to think that as a society we have progressed beyond shock at the hiring of a pregnant woman, but unfortunately that’s not the case. So let’s take this opportunity to debunk the common myths associated with hiring pregnant women.
Myth - She may choose not to come back to work after she has the baby
Once she locks eyes with her darling offspring, her world will change, maternal instinct will kick in, and the company will be out of luck. This is the thinking I have heard most repeated over my career when it comes to hiring pregnant woman. But let’s think this through. Is it really rational to believe that someone would take the risk of changing jobs while pregnant to take on a job where she’ll be a newcomer and have to work extra hours to prove herself while she has a newborn at home? Not likely. Rather, it’s easier to believe she’s more dedicated to this new career opportunity with your company than your other candidates because SHE is willing to take the risk. Even if she’s not currently working, what are the chances she would opt to be working through one of the most difficult physical times of her life, when she could just as easily stay at home in bed if that was what she wanted? Again, more evidence of how much she likely values the opportunity with your company. If she has the desire or financial means to stay at home, trust me, she’s doing that while she’s pregnant.
Myth: The company can’t survive without her for three months.
First off, nobody is irreplaceable, and leaders who are running their companies under that assumption have a lot bigger problems than worrying about an employee taking maternity leave. Everyone should have a succession plan, employees should be crosstrained and contingency plans in place in case somebody gets hit by a bus. But regardless, it’s obvious the company can get by without the position filled because they are doing so now. The time should be looked at as an investment in getting a quality hire. Imagine if Yahoo had taken more time to find a better fit the last couple times they searched for a CEO? I’d bet the company wouldn’t be nearly in the decline that it is. Lastly, the biggest myth is that professional women unplug for three months while they go out on maternity leave. Some women take little time off at all, while others multi-task from home and even hospital rooms. According to BusinessWeek, it is not uncommon for some women to answer work e-mails from the hospital, as in the case of Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite in San Francisco. Hartz has also hired people and attended meetings while caring for her infants. (The question of whether this makes her a bad parent is another discussion, but for the record, my bet is she’s a great mother).
Myth: She will be distracted from the heavy level of responsibility that a position at such a senior level requires.
Distracted? Certainly, as all working parents are. But in all likelihood, she’s going to be working harder than her peers in order to prove that she’s NOT distracted, because everyone knows she has a newborn at home. In addition, this is an opportunity she took a huge risk for, and one that she doesn’t take lightly. She will do whatever it takes to succeed in her new role. Imagine how good Marissa Mayer had it as a ten-year veteran at Facebook with flexible scheduling and having built a team of strong leaders to cover gaps. She gave all of that up to work harder at six months pregnant. She will not disappoint.
Myth: She will want a flexible schedule, or she won’t be able to attend early/late meetings.
It’s true that working parents, both men and women, want to work for enlightened companies that have moved past the old school mentality that values “face time” and being at your desk from 8-5. It’s also true that most professionals, working mothers included, work well beyond those boundaries. With our smart phone culture, most of the more enlightened workplaces have gotten over the schedule issue, as the world is now our workplace. In addition, working mothers with strong careers have figured out how to manage the demands of a 24 hour workplace through effective childcare, nannies, supportive spouses, families, friends, etc. The bottom line is, if she hasn’t gotten it figured out, she would not have reached the level of success that entices you to hire her.
Many of the fears associated with hiring pregnant women stem from the fact that in the US, our business culture is still largely driven by male leadership with wives that stay at home to raise children (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s the technology sector and the younger generation of workers that are challenging old assumptions and taking the lead in creating flexible work environments for both women and men. In parallel, these employees are more productive and creative than ever.
There are significant benefits associated with hiring pregnant women. I was hired 12 years ago at a financial services company when I was seven months pregnant, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career. Not only did I work hard and perform well, I was incredibly loyal to the boss and company who took a chance on me. I stayed with the company for six years and was ultimately promoted to Vice President and led the HR function for the home lending business of one of the top financial institutions in America today.
There are significant rewards associated with challenging the status quo on family matters at work. Get ahead of the curve, and your company will be positioned to take advantage of a largely underrated talent pool.