Marissa Mayer was recently named the new CEO of Yahoo. She is a former vice-president of Google who has amassed plenty of professional accolades and otherwise seems to be really smart (I love this interview she gave to Fast Co., especially point No. 7).
But I found it more interesting that news outlets mostly bypassed leading with her professional achievements and focused on Ms. Mayer’s pending pregnancy. Consider for example this sampling:
- Mayer Becomes Highest-Profile Pregnant Woman Hired as CEO;
- Marissa Mayer: The First Ever Pregnant CEO Of A Fortune 500 Tech Company?;
- Marissa Mayer Pregnant: New Yahoo CEO Expecting A Baby Boy;
- New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Is Pregnant. Does It Matter?; and
- New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Is Pregnant.
The coverage that Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy received highlight two points relative to employment and pregnancy.
The Media Can Make a Big Deal about a Pregnant Employee; Employers Shouldn’t.
First, any employer that announced hiring decisions or made employment decisions based on pregnancy would make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
This is because under Michigan law, pregnancy discrimination is prohibited. To prove pregnancy discrimination, a plaintiff must show that the employer discriminated against the employee on the basis of a pregnancy. MCL 37.2202(1)(a) (Technically, the Michigan statute prohibits employment discrimination because of sex and MCL 37.2201(d) defines “sex” to include pregnancy).
In addition to the headlines, is the cost of discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported at the beginning of 2012 that “53,865 charges alleging pregnancy discrimination” had been made over the past 10 fiscal years. These charges resulted in $150.5 million in monetary benefits for charging parties.
One reason for the number of filings may relate to the consistently high percentage of mothers in the U.S. workforce with children under 18 years of age. The chart from the Catalyst, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding opportunities for women and businesses, illustrates this point:
LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE OF MOTHERS (WITH CHILDREN UNDER 18)
On the one had, these numbers are encouraging in that women with children have the opportunity to remain in or return to the workforce. But on the other hand, it is worth noting that the U.S. is one of only a few countries on the planet where employers are not required to offer mandatory maternity leave. In contrast, countries like Canada and Norway provide 40 weeks or more of paid maternity leave.
Women – Young and Old – Still Underrepresented in the Ranks of CEOs.
Second, it was also reported that Ms. Mayer is one of the youngest female CEOs. But you could drop “young” from that headline and it is still newsworthy.
This is because women significantly remain underrepresented when it comes to the rank of CEO.
Consider for example these numbers from a 2009 article from Harvard Business Review:
When we studied the leadership of 2,000 of the world’s top performing companies, we found only 29 (1.5%) of those CEOs were women, an even smaller percentage than on the Fortune 500 Global list (2.6%).
While the workplace has certainly evolved to be gender-blind (most of the time) it is interesting that outside of the workplace women still face greater scrutiny in the media and public discussions when they decide to have a career and have children.
And it is a scrutiny that simply does not exist for men. Take Google co-founder Larry Page; He was expecting his second child two months after he took the CEO title at Google. That is probably news to most because there were no headlines, social media discussions, or debates about whether he could lead a technology giant and still be a father.
Unfortunately, Mr. Page had it much easier than Ms. Mayer’s circumstances: Google vs. Yahoo (do you need to say anything more?) and no one questioned his decision to be a father and CEO. Aside from dealing with the occasional guilt experienced because you make more for no other reason than gender, being a guy is a really good gig.
For more information regarding avoiding pregnancy discrimination and other employment law claims, contact Jason Shinn.