Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer upsets women who think she makes it look too easy. (Noah Berger/Reuters )
She said her baby is “easy” — curse you, CEO businesslady Marissa Mayer.
Another woman said raising five kids “was hard work” — curse you, too, stay-at-home-mom and first-lady runner-up Ann Romney.
After seeing all the jackal attacks on famous women who talk about motherhood, I’m sure that Buckingham Palace is already putting together a PR strategy for how newly announced preggo Kate Middleton should talk about her royal baby.
With all of the choices facing women today, there is one discomforting constant: Someone will always be there to tell us we’re doing it wrong, whatever we’re doing.
The newest round of the work/life/balance mommy wars came when Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo, broke new ground by being one of the first CEOs to speak publicly about parenthood.
“The thing that surprised me is that the job is really fun . . . and the baby’s been easy. The baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be. I’ve been really lucky that way,” Mayer said last week at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women event, prompting a firestorm.
Some women thought that Mayer, with her huge salary and paid support staff, was setting too high a bar for other women, who might struggle with not-so-easy babies, financial constraints and a job outside the home.
Of course, that means that Krispy, the shift manager at the local diner, will now certainly be empowered to fire his swing-shift waitress when she’s late after a night with a collicky baby.
“Whatsa matter witchu? Marissa Mayer can make it to work on time with a kid at home, why can’t you?” he’ll snarl, before putting out his cig in her coffee cup.
It’s hard to say that fear is wrong — we have light years to go before we’re a nation that truly has family-friendly workplaces.
Underscoring this truth was this year’s talker by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former top aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who explained in Atlantic Magazine “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”
But here’s the deal: Every kid is different, every mom is different and talking about it is the only way to make progress.
Yes, Mayer undoubtedly has great paid support. She probably isn’t running out to get groceries on her lunch hour, vacuuming while attached to a breast pump or showing up with the perpetual vomit on her lapel because the kid erped on her way out the door.
But the truth is, those of us who do or have done all that also aren’t chief executives of a multibillion-dollar company with 12,000 employees whose business strategies are analyzed by Goldman Sachs and whose leadership decisions are instantly translated into percentage points on the New York Stock Exchange.
I sure as heck hope she’s got a supportive spouse and quality child care that will help her with the baby — whether he’s one of the “easy” ones or not — while she takes the helm of a major tech company.
Hearing Mayer addressing her role as a mother in any fashion is refreshing. It busts down the idea that women have to act like men and leave behind anything that reminds people they are women to make it in the business world.
Take the empowerment talks of Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, who encourages young women to forge ahead, while admitting that she concealed for years that she left the office at 5:30 p.m. to be home with her kids.
Talking about that is daring. Women only made up 14.1 percent of executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies last year, even though we are 46.6 percent of the workforce, according to the research firm Catalyst.
But it can’t only be up to chief executives to be the role models representing all working moms.
Ann Romney was right — even with a huge pot of resources and no outside job, raising five children is harrowing and fantastic, and all-consuming.
Imagine how hard it is for a parent with no partner, limited income and no choice but to work outside the home. It’s an issue that was barely addressed in the presidential campaign.
Each time one of these women — whether Romney or Mayer — speaks publicly about the balance of work and parenting, we get a little closer to understanding that this is an issue about families, about society, about the wellness of our community. And keeping quiet about it doesn’t solve anything.
You want to know when real progress is made? When we hear a CEO speech about leadership that includes tales of long, collicky nights — from a dad.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.