Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo) caused a firestorm recently when she announced that she will likely take limited maternity leave when her twins are born.
I founded BTG, to give people control over their lives and to let them, and only them, decide how and when to work. So here are my thoughts on Marissa…
I don’t care if Marissa Mayer takes 14 months or 14 minutes of maternity leave. I’m much more interested in what she and Mark Zuckerberg (who is also expecting a child soon) do over the next 18 years.
The focus on maternity/paternity leave, while important, is a small piece of the parenthood puzzle. The much bigger issue is that actually raising a child (as opposed to just having a child) – for both women and men – is not some temporary inconvenience that the right amount of maternity leave will “fix.” With any luck it will be at least an 18 year (mostly) joy. The real opportunity for Marissa Mayer and Mark Zuckerberg is to innovate – what Silicon Valley is supposed to do best – around how people can work differently, even in top jobs, so they don’t have to choose between their family and their work.
Today we have one primary mode of corporate leadership that prizes a 24/7 work ethic. So it’s no surprise that the people who make it to the top operate in this manner. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As I have written in Fortune and in the WSJ, there are ways to creatively restructure work so that even the most senior executives can have more options.
For example, jobs can be defined as a series of projects that can be sized to the amount of time someone wants to devote to work. Or, an executive’s contributions can be evaluated on quality and productivity without an emphasis on quantity. This would allow individuals to choose to focus on measurable things that make a difference to their organization and be judged on those results, not on the amount of time they choose to work.
Finally, leadership responsibilities can be divided and distributed more broadly, allowing for both a better match between skills and the work that needs to be done (after all, few can be great at everything a senior executive needs to do these days) and for a less intense schedule. Truth is, CEO’s are in the best position to do this; Here’s why:
1) CEO’s have an infinite amount of work and only 24 hours/day. They are already masters of prioritization and triage. Why not just prioritize a little more and free up an extra 10 or even 20% for the other things in life.
2) CEO’s are better able to make the financial trade off that would be required to make this work. If a CEO decides to do less of some things, she will need to build a team (and pay for that team) that can take these things on.
3) While CEO’s have the ultimate responsibility for the results and health of an organization, they also have more control over how they design their job and choose to spend their time.
The reign of the 24/7 mentality puts pressure on CEOs to demonstrate publicly how hard they are working – perhaps one reason Marisa Meyer preemptively announced her maternity leave intentions. But there’s evidence to suggest that CEOs often find quiet ways to get the time they want for activities outside of work. Maybe they even have some good ideas about how to blend work and life in a better way – they just don’t feel free to share them. It would be nice for a change to see some innovative executives publicly say they are working less – even if they privately chose to do more. At least it will give everyone else permission to figure out how to work in ways that make room for family after even the most generous maternity/paternity leave is long over.
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