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Mayer’s Family Leave Plan: Amen

Far too many still see parenthood as bad for business


While Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg has been in the spotlight of late thanks to her girl-power manifesto Lean In, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer is making everyone say: Sheryl who?

Women & DiversityYesterday, Mayer stole the spotlight by announcing a “family-friendly” policy for new parents. It includes:

  • Sixteen weeks of maternity leave for mothers (twice the previous amount)
  • Eight weeks of paternity leave for fathers
  • A gift of $500 for things like groceries, babysitters and so on

With that in mind, it’d probably be more accurate to say Mayer is taking a page out of Sandberg’s book (literally) than stealing the spotlight, as Sandberg has pushed for men to do more at home as well.

But either way, she’s the one currently getting her five minutes of female powerhouse fame.

Well … another five minutes, that is.

Ever since taking over at Yahoo, Mayer has been turning heads — of shareholders, employees, onlookers and more.

Her hiring was announced on July 16, 2012; since then Mayer has both given birth to a baby boy and inspired shareholders, with Yahoo’s stock soaring 60%. Keep in mind that YHOO was sitting in the red year-to-date when Mayer took over, and that its subsequent climb was three times the broader market’s over the same time period.

That’s not all, of course. She also gave her employees free lunch, updated workspaces and more. And she banned telecommuting — something much of the feminist crowd criticized quite loudly. (I actually criticized it as well, although my reasons had nothing to do with gender.)

I don’t doubt that this move has female-focused one-time critics back in Mayer’s corner.

It’s definitely won me over.

From my own personal experience, maternity leave is one of the largest — and most obvious — tiles in the glass ceiling that far too many won’t admit still exists.  Remember: The U.S. is still one of the few countries that doesn’t even mandate paid maternity leave.

I have gotten into arguments with countless men — my brother, my boyfriend and even guys I barely knew — about maternity leave. Many say that, because men simply won’t ever have to carry, birth or nurse a child (and thus take time off work to do so), it’s often simply a better business decision to hire them.

See — it’s not sexist. It’s smart. Right.

Part of me hopes that people just say things like this to me for the fired-up reaction it inevitably triggers, but a bigger part of me thinks: If there are guys who will admit this bias directly, there have to be plenty more who think it but simply don’t voice it. (Not hiring a woman because she could have a kid is of course discrimination, but such unspoken stereotypes often affect decision even if never directly pinpointed.)

That’s terrifying. And just plain dumb.

For one, such logic implies that how much time an employee is going to take off should be a deciding factor in hiring.

If that was the case, why not judge employees or potential employees on how likely they are to use all their vacation hours? Why not assess their health to see if they will use more sick days? (Guilty. I’m still a bit under the weather as I’m writing this … and was sick just a few weeks back as well.)

If “time that will likely be taken off” were considered for all employees, whether subconsciously or blatantly, then fine. I could admit that, at face value and in a 100%-business-centric world, being in the office is better than not being in the office.

But that’s not the case, in two different senses. For one, an employee is not necessarily more valuable just because he or she isn’t in the office on certain days. Heck, Mayer’s big-picture changes, cultural business shifts and so on will affect Yahoo even on days she is out taking care of her new son.

(There are also plenty of flip-side arguments that could be made: Having a better work-life balance could make for happier employees and maybe even more productive employees; it’s better to give all your focus part of the time than half-focus all of the time; and so on.)

But on top of that, time off is hardly ever considered in any other capacity. Instead, the argument is clearly nothing but a backward justification … and an outdated one.

Men also take time off — or should — when they become fathers. In fact, the dichotomy between parents and non-parents is likely greater in terms of time out-of-office than it is between males and females.

Until everyone acknowledges and supports that, we still have a way to go.

And that’s precisely why we need more messages like Sandberg’s and policies like Mayer’s.

At the time of publication, Oursler had no positions in the securities mentioned.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

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