The announcement last week that the newly appointed CEO and supposed saviour of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, is six months pregnant has ignited much debate. Whilst there has been some backlash, most commentary has been positive, citing Ms. Mayer as a prime example of women “having it all”.
What is apparent however, is that a woman holding a senior position at a Fortune 500 company whilst simultaneously expecting a baby is still a story worth reporting and debating. It should not come as a shock that a woman is expecting a baby. Would a similar amount of news coverage be given if the new Yahoo CEO was a man expecting a baby with his wife?
Ms. Mayer represents only the 20th current female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and women, as a whole, account for only four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to make decisions on the terms of a worker’s employment on the basis of their pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are many cases where women are refused employment or promotions, or even dismissed (including selection for redundancy) just because they are pregnant or take maternity leave.
Ms Mayer was recruited by Yahoo in June 2012. She is said to have disclosed her pregnancy to Yahoo’s board at the end of June, noting that none of the company’s directors seemed to have an issue hiring a pregnant chief executive. Of course, had Ms Mayer’s pregnancy resulted in a decision not to offer her the role, this would have been contrary to equality laws and Ms Mayer, had she worked in the UK, would have had a claim for sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Successful claims for sex discrimination can open a company up to a claim for uncapped damages in an employment tribunal.
Ms. Mayer has stated that she intends to “work throughout” and to take only “a few weeks” of maternity leave. Whilst it is always positive to hear of female appointments to senior positions, particularly when that female is pregnant, Ms. Mayer does not represent the majority of working women. Indeed, the surrounding media hype and Ms Mayer’s approach to her maternity leave may suggest that, regrettably the ‘glass ceiling’ is very much still in place.
It is also apparent that shareholders and the public feel that they are entitled to be informed of Ms Mayer’s pregnancy furthermore, they feel they are entitled to comment and pass judgment. Hopefully, the appointment and confidence of the Yahoo Board will work to show that women, pregnant or not, are capable of working as whatever they choose and it is for no one to criticise their choices.
Author: Laura Molloy, employment solicitor at Manchester law firm Pannone