Will Marissa Mayer save Yahoo! and prove a woman's worth in running a Fortune 500 company if she works through her maternity leave?
Or will she set back the hard-earned rights of working moms who treasure their time off and value the importance of balancing work and family?
Debate is now raging online and in the media over Mayer's recent announcement that she will take only a few weeks of maternity leave and work through even that time off after giving birth to her first child in October. That's because there's a lot more riding on this decision other than what one 37-year-old President & CEO plans to do with 12 weeks of her life.
She probably doesn't want this responsibility, but because Mayer is among only 4 percent of women who head America's largest corporations, her every move carries the added weight piled on all pioneers. She's about to become a role model mom.
As a female trying to prove herself in a male-dominated industry, it makes sense that Mayer wants to soothe any doubts that employees and investors have about giving a big job to a woman about to go off and give birth. Mayer – Yahoo's seventh chief executive in less than five years – is so bent on being the heroine on a sinking ship that one of her first moves as Yahoo's newest CEO was to open the cafeteria doors to all employees and provide free lunches for them.
If she really wants to show employees that she appreciates them, Mayer should give them all some work-life balance time off on a regular basis – and lead by example by taking some of it for herself and her new baby.
For all her smarts, Mayer demonstrates an amazing naïveté about not only the demands of motherhood, but the possibility of her own personal desires changing over and over again, along with the changes transforming her son in those first three months. This early milestone period is, after all, the time when a newborn first lifts his head, recognizes his mother's face, responds to her voice, smiles for the first time, coos and blows bubbles, grasps her finger.
It's the beginning of a bond and a responsibility that lasts a lifetime. What conference call can be more important than that?
When October rolls around, Mayer shouldn't let her employers, her employees or even a nation of working moms influence her decision. Only one tiny human being should have the power to sway her at that point – and he'll be demanding a free lunch every day.