“Can she have it all?” This is a phrase that has been used quite a lot in the past few days. The context is around Marissa Mayer, the 37-year-old, newly appointed CEO of Yahoo. Marissa disclosed the news to the public that she is seven months pregnant a few days after she was announced as the head of the struggling company.
There’s no question Marissa is a smart choice. She’s a respected ex-Google leader, an ex-engineer and she is well-liked among most in the digital community.
So why do we see headlines like, “Marissa Mayer is Pregnant: Does it Matter?” or “Can She Have it All?” in well-respected media outlets like Forbes magazine and Time.
The answer is that sadly, Marissa is in the minority. Only 4 percent of Fortune 500 leaders are women, and most women who occupy that 4 percent are well out of their childbearing years.
So, the media has naturally revisited the age-old debate about working mothers, and whether they can juggle the demands of turning around a company and running a family.
Research in the American Sociological Review has found that given identical résumés, a mother is 79 percent less likely to be hired and 100 percent less likely to be promoted.
This all resonates with me, managing a company while pregnant. What’s even better: I manage a digital marketing and advertising agency. There are few industries that have the demands that the advertising business does. So can I “have it all”?
The question I ask is, who really has it all? How many successful male agency leaders claim to have it all?” I’m not even sure what “it all” is.
All the best leaders I know — (including the founder of my agency) — don’t claim to have it all, but sacrifice and compromise every day. They work hard. They properly balance hundreds of considerations and often choose meeting a deadline over sleep and family. Pre-pregnancy, agency life has caused me to miss some family events. Client travel has taken me away on important holidays. Late night pitch work has left my husband with takeout. But it’s all been worth it.
As I head into motherhood, I know that I cannot predict the physical, time and emotional demands that motherhood holds. I’ve only been warned how hard it is. Especially today, when our “right now” economy gives a woman very little time to recover from childbirth, all while she is held to a “let’s see if you can do it” standard.
The media has predicted Marissa’s maternity leave will be “skimpy” to say the least, and if she were to take the typical three month leave, she would be judged severely. (I don’t plan to take this either, but only because I’d miss the agency.)
Having followed Marissa for some time, I think she has the right mix of leadership, determination and balance.
I use these guidelines as I continue to be a manager throughout pregnancy and motherhood:
- A strong support system: It’s been written that Marissa has this, personally and professionally. I am also blessed with professional mentors who celebrate my pregnancy, a talented and driven support team, friends who inspire and a husband who cheers me on along the way. I’m certain that this is the most important requirement for leadership in motherhood. I haven’t seen anyone survive without it, and it would be impossible in an agency environment.
- Genuine passion and love for what we do: How fortunate am I that I get to influence a brand’s future? It’s a mix of art and science and it requires an inherent passion that I truly have. I get to work with creative, programmers and planners who come up with some amazing stuff. When experiencing life’s biggest challenges — and we all do, male or female — this should remain a touchstone. We’re in a business that is changing every day, and it’s really very cool.
- Digitally connected: Sure, I’m tethered to my iPhone, iPad and laptop 24 hours a day. But that’s what my clients need and that’s not changing. Luckily, we in the agency business can “be there” while getting sonograms or running our sick kids to the doctor. It can be a flexible business when handled properly, and never before has this been possible as much as it is today. Not to say that you should be too far apart from your team, but when it’s important, you can be (most of the time).
- Focus: Even before this baby is born, I feel an enhanced sense of focus. Time is more precious, so I’m less interested in the non-important. The best female agency leaders I’ve seen have this too. They’re not emailing friends throughout the day; they’re not wasting time. It’s an attribute not everyone has.
I encourage all women in the marketing and digital business to not feel that family is impossible. Are clients less likely to hire me based on motherhood? Not likely. When your ideas are better, you work harder, you show results and you typically win. Which is what I hope Marissa Mayer does.
Originally published Jul 19, 2012 1:02:40 AM, updated December 02 2014