Marissa Mayer started her new job as CEO of Yahoo this week, the fifth person to hold the position in as many years. The news made headlines as the 37-year-old former Google exec is now one of the biggest players, man or woman, in technology specifically and corporate America in general. She’s got some big issues to handle in the new post. Advertisers have fled, the brand and its reputation is in shambles, and the internal state of the company is a mess.
But Mayer also made news this week for something completely separate: she announced that she’s six months pregnant and doesn’t plan to take a proper maternity leave. The decision reignited the question of how women can achieve a work-life balance.
The Atlantic recently published what has become the most-read story in the history of the publication, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is a Princeton University academic, a writer and speaker, and was the first female director of policy planning at the State Department. This story has landed her a book deal. The basic premise of the article is this: Slaughter discovered that she couldn’t have a high-powered Washington D.C. job and still be the mother of two teenage sons in Princeton, N.J.
“I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time,’” she writes. “But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.”
Among the facts: educated, professional women who are sharing child-rearing responsibilities with a partner who is also an educated professional have more options (and more money). Technology and the passage of time have helped, but traditional ideas about working life persist even as society changes. This makes it harder for women overall, and especially for those who don’t have the extra hands and income that would make “having it all” easier.
Slaughter praises the “discipline and sheer endurance” that moms/career women have always dug deep to find and put to use. But she also gushes about knowing what you want and working towards that. This may be the best piece of advice in her lengthy article. Skill, perseverance, and ambition can be fulfilled. You just may have to fulfill it by following your own unique path. It may take longer to get where you want in your career. Others may give you the side-eye for choosing family over that work conference. But in the end, it will all be worth it.
With so many modern women rising through the professional ranks, we will be having the “work-life balance” discussion for some time to come. But slowly, it looks like things are changing. After all, we now have lots of dads who share domestic responsibilities. And a major tech company with a list of problems decided it would be in their best interests to hire a woman who’s about three months from giving birth to steer them into a bright and lucrative future.