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On Having Most of Both -- Marissa Mayer's Choice

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Marissa Mayer's now-famous tweet, "Another piece of good news today - @zackbogue and I are expecting a new baby boy!" changed history. It was her first tweet after announcing that she would leave Google after 13 years to become CEO of Yahoo.

This is the first time a woman has taken a Fortune 500 CEO position while expecting a child. Some say Mayer, who is married to investor/entrepreneur Zachary Bogue, is on her way to "having it all." Critics have lined up to express concerns over how a young mother can successfully run a company, while advocates are looking to Mayer to change the court of public opinion and open doors for women executives.

The continuous debate among women (interestingly, not often among men) about whether or not we can "have it all" has never been more prominent.

We offer two perspectives with the same conclusion. Nobody, whether man or woman, can "have it all," but it's quite possible to have "most of both." Life at work and at home is all about choices, and no one size fits all.

Sherry:

Can we have it all or can't we? My take is that both positions are unconsciously adopted to justify one's own choice. Of course, we all need to believe that we have made the right choices for ourselves and for our families. Personally, I have known women who only have one responsibility (i.e. either family or work) and can barely get themselves out the door on time. And I've known others with seemingly boundless energy who excel at challenging jobs, raise functional and accomplished kids and who seem to have mastered everything.

When I think about the story of Marissa Mayer, I have several thoughts. First, serious kudos to Yahoo for realizing that being pregnant is not a career-ending malady! Yahoo has just advanced the women's movement by light years! Second, yay for Marissa! She is an accomplished young woman who has excelled in her career and should make us all proud! Third, why are we paying all this attention to her fabulous condo, designer clothes and impending motherhood? Do we do this when men are appointed CEO of a major company? No, we don't. Why don't we just stand back and watch her go!?

All this debate about whether Mayer can "have it all" is not relevant. We should be talking about the fact that women today have choices and that we should honor their choices and not make them feel guilty for them. Marissa will make the choices that are best for her and her family and they are none of our business.

I have chosen to do both -- career and family -- and am lucky to have a flexible job which makes this possible. Others I know have made different choices. I have a friend with an MBA from one of the most prestigious business schools in the country, and she stays home with her two small children. I am happy for her that she has this choice. I know several "doctor mothers" that have children and demanding careers, but make it work with help from caregivers, family and lots of logistical talent. I am happy for them, too, because they have found a way to make their lives work for them. Personally, I may hate to see that prestigious MBA "go to waste" or wish the doctor mother could take her kids to the pool instead of the nanny. But then I see what a wonderful Mom the MBA is and see that the doctor mother is helping save the lives of other Moms' children who are suffering from cancer. Then I ask, "Who am I to judge?"

Personally, I have concluded that no one can have it all. It's just not possible to be in two places at the same time. Inevitably, one life will interfere with the other and a person literally cannot do it all! Optimistically though, I DO believe that we can have "most of both"! I have most of both: a challenging job and the flexibility to do most (but not all) of the things I would like to do with my kids. I am not always able to do everything and sometimes I sacrifice one for the other, but I do believe I have most of both. For example, I remember a time when my job required me to miss the "community sing" event at my kids' school where my son and his two friends played row-row-row your boat on their Appalachain one-string plucking sticks (that's another story). This was the one time any performer has ever been asked for an encore performance. And I missed it. Luckily, I was able to see it on videotape. Several times, I've left meetings early to pick up my daughter from swim practice. t is slightly embarrassing and unprofessional, but my priority is my daughter. These are the prices I pay for having most of both.

There are other little sacrifices that I make, albeit strategically. For example, I don't volunteer to go on every field trip or help out at every class party. I'm more likely to send in juice boxes for the party than to show up with fresh-baked brownies and help the kids with their art projects. This is OK with me. Sometimes, I feel that I should know more about what's going on at school, but I'm not the type of mom who can't bear to part from my children. Sometimes, I'm thrilled when I drop them off at school!

There are also times when I bow out of work-related activities, using my "mom status" as an excuse. I am careful not to over-use this excuse, but it gets me out of some things that I'd rather not do!

After all of these confessions, I'm happy to admit that I have "most of both." The only reason I am able to have most of both is because I have a flexible job which allows me, in many cases, to work where and when I want.

Flexibility of work is THE KEY to having "most of both." When women are forced to choose between career and family, nobody wins. Women who would like to work, but cannot find flexibility, never feel that they are expressing their "full selves." Failure to express a portion of one's being leads to discontent and resentment. Women who would like to stay home with their children, but who have no choice but to work in inflexible jobs, never feel that they are giving to their family in the way they would like. This also leads to resentment of their work situation, which does not bode well for their commitment or loyalty to the enterprise for which they're working.

For Marissa, I wish her the very best as the new CEO of Yahoo and as a new mother. I know she will be challenged to figure out how to balance her life, but I am confident that she will do so. I hope Yahoo continues to demonstrate 21st-century thinking by not only appointing a pregnant CEO, but by affording her and all the employees there the gift of flexibility, so they can more fully express and enjoy the different facets of their lives. Finally, I hope that Mayer will remind us that women have choices and that we should honor and support them!

Gina:

When I was growing up, my dad always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I worked hard and treated people right. Then he added this caveat: "You can't become President of the United States because women are too emotional to make decisions of that magnitude, and you can't fight in military combat because the men will focus on protecting you instead of their country."

Politics and violence really aren't my things, so I was not discouraged. Armed with a Journalism major and Women's Studies minor, I set out to change the world. As I started to climb the ladder in the world of television news management, I made a conscious decision to focus on career. I thought children would clearly derail my career. In my 30's, I noticed how senior executives looked at my left hand during interviews to see if a wedding band was there. One person flat-out asked me if I was married or had children. At the time, I was proud to answer "no" on both accounts, thinking it would put me "ahead of the competition." (I did end up getting that job.)

Today at age 40, I am not a CEO. I no longer run television news operations. I am a MBA student at night and a communications director during the day (and occasionally nights and weekends). According to the IRS, I don't have children. My 13-year-old lab/collie named Sammy is not a legitimate deduction. I got married a few years ago to a guy who doesn't care whether I run a Fortune 500 company or run a cash register at a dollar store. He would embrace fatherhood and be willing to set his career goals aside so I could "have the most of both."

However, the further along I progressed in business school and the more I learned about the reality of gender diversity (or the lack thereof) in the c-suite and corporate boards, I became even less interested in attempting motherhood. Then, Yahoo gave Marissa Mayer a chance. The Board judged her on her track record and credentials, not her hairstyle, wardrobe or the status of her womb. It's time for the rest of us, both men and women, to follow suit.

Maybe I don't have to choose between a life as an executive or a life as a parent. Like many others, I will be watching closely to see how Marissa does in her new role. I want her to succeed and make the skeptics look like fools. I want her to "have the most of both," and I want her to change the world. She is in the right place at the right time to do it.


Sherry Moss is a Professor of Organizational Studies at Wake Forest University and a co-founder of www.meaningsource.org, an online site which offers resources for individuals searching for meaning in their work. You may contact Sherry at mosss@wfu.edu.

Gina Katzmark is the Associate Director of Communications at Wake Forest University Schools of Business and a first-year working professional MBA student. She changed careers in 2009 after 15 years of television news management. You may contact Gina at katzmag@wfu.edu.