The XX Factor

Marissa Mayer Is Pregnant? And She Still Gets To Be CEO?

Marissa Mayer at the 2009 Women of the Year hosted by Glamour at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 9, 2009 in New York City

Photograph by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Glamour magazine.

Marissa Mayer, newly named CEO of Yahoo, is pregnant. When a Yahoo recruiter contacted her she already knew she was pregnant. She apparently told Yahoo’s board about her pregnancy in June and they just went right on with the negotiations. We can say, what’s the big deal, women have kids, they work, life goes on but this is a very big deal. In fact, I’d bet it’s the first time ever a company of this size and importance has hired an already pregnant woman to be its CEO. (Readers, feel free to correct me if you know different.) It’s one thing for an American company to know theoretically that its CEO has children somewhere at home being taken care of by a father or nanny or day care provider but it’s quite another for that company to see her dragging around visible evidence of her impending maternal state to a job interview, and then take her on anyway. Yahoo for Yahoo.   

Once I heard Sheryl Sandberg tell a story that’s a version of the famous one she told in her TED talk, about the young woman who came into her office agonized about future children she wasn’t close to having. In the version I heard, a woman to whom Sandberg had just offered a promotion was hemming and hawing before accepting. Sandberg was baffled and thought this was just another case of a woman being too insecure to step up. But then one day the woman came into her office, shut the door, and confessed that she was hesitating because she was pregnant. Sheryl’s response was: “Congratulations. All the more reason for you to take this promotion. So you can have something exciting to come back to when you’re done with maternity leave.”

This is of course the opposite of the usual advice a boss gives a pregnant woman, and one of Sandberg’s guiding principles: when you’re pregnant is not a time to be apologetic and freaked out and unsure of yourself; it’s a time to be your most ambitious. I realize this philosophy is not for everyone and many people will fall more into the Anne-Marie Slaughter you-can’t-have-it-all school. But it’s great to see the option out there so visibly.