By Kirthan Aujlay
This article was previously published on July 27, 2012.
Recently, Yahoo! hired a very pregnant Marissa Mayer as their new CEO. Marissa previously worked as the first female engineer at Google and had a key role in developing the design of Google’s homepage. Mayer is clearly a trailblazer, but this hiring seems to be part of a larger trend, as she becomes one of the 20 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, many of whom are also mothers.
This brings up the age-old question of women being able to have it all. Although this may mean different things to different women, in order for women to balance having a demanding career and being a mother certain conditions need to be put in place. Canada has some of the best conditions in regards to maternity and paternity leave. It offers new mothers 52 weeks of paid maternity leave at 55% of the original wages, although the exact wages may depend on the province. After the first 17 weeks either the father or mother can take the additional 35 weeks of leave.
Some European countries offer even better benefits, such as Denmark, Serbia and Croatia, which all offer an entire year of leave with 100% of wages paid. But Sweden is leading the way in progressive parental leave. Working parents are entitled to 480 days (16 months), and in an effort to encourage more paternal involvement, two of the 16 months must be taken by the “minority” parent.
Sadly, most mothers in the U.S., where Mayer works, are offered a measly twelve weeks of unpaid maternity leave, beating out Mexico and Pakistan for the worst conditions around the globe. American fathers are not offered a single day of paid paternity leave. Conditions in the U.S. speak to the fact that work traditionally viewed as “women’s work” such as child rearing, is still grossly undervalued by society.
It may be a while before governments begin changing their policies. However, some workplaces are beginning to appreciate the struggles faced by working parents, and are changing the landscape accordingly by offering onsite daycare for their employees’ children, or are allowing parents to work from home through email and videoconferencing. The issue isn’t so much whether new mothers can handle their workloads, but whether or not employers are willing to alter their views of how work should be completed. Although women have long been balancing work and motherhood, women like Marissa Mayer are challenging traditional notions of what it means to be a working mom.
Finally, it’s important to reiterate that having it all means different things for different people. Not every woman has an innate desire to become a mother and not every woman yearns to work her way up the corporate ladder. Homemaking blogs and Etsy shops are breathing new life into traditional domestic pursuits that many people view as old-fashioned or unimportant. At the same time, many young women are eschewing the entire notion of marriage and children and looking for fulfillment elsewhere. Whether women want one, the other, or everything, there is no right answer. All we know is that society is finally realizing that it is up to women to choose for themselves.