An article on BBC online this week (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18876580) trumpets the fact that Marissa Mayer announced that she is 6 months pregnant at the same time that she is launched as the new Yahoo CEO.
Is this news? Here in the UK we’ve had the Sex Discrimination Act (now, of course, the Equality Act), since 1975, outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sex or pregnancy. Employers cannot safely ask about a prospective employee’s pregnancy, plans for children or actual children. Furthermore, employees cannot be ignored or overlooked for promotion simply because they either are pregnant, or an employer is worried about their potentially becoming pregnant and taking maternity leave or seeking to work flexibly upon any return to work. Therefore, surely this should not be such a news item – as one commentator says in the BBC article, “It is great that Marissa Mayer is pregnant. But intensity of reaction is slightly depressing. Kind of as if they’d hired a yeti”.
However, looking in more detail at Ms Mayer’s appointment and even disregarding her significant qualifications for the position (first female engineer and employee number 20 at Google, Computer Science degree from Stanford), it is clear that she is not the typical pregnant employee. Ms Mayer has stated that she intends to “work throughout” and to take only “a few weeks” of maternity leave. This is evidence, one presumes of either an unworldly determination to succeed, the financial and emotional means to sub-contract the whole business of motherhood, or a total failure to comprehend the demands of being a brand new parent. Time will tell.
In summary – yes, great news that an employer has not found a weak excuse for hiring an alternative candidate over a pregnant employee. However, a note of caution that this is a very specific situation and should not be heralded as the start of a brave new world. Indeed, some mothers and parents-to-be may view this appointment and Ms Mayer’s approach to it as simply reinforcing the age-old stereotype that the only way for a woman to get ahead is to give up her right to take time off to be a mother and put her children first.