Earlier this year, Yahoo! announced that Marissa Mayer would be the new CEO of the company. This became even bigger news when she revealed, the same day, that she would be expecting her first child in October, which begs me to ask several questions: Why did this additional information change things? Why did her pregnancy spark a debate? Why does the public care so much about a CEO’s family? It’s absurd, really. I can’t recall ever having heard of a male CEO’s children, plans to have children, or time taken off due to having children, yet Mayer’s pregnancy made headlines. If Yahoo! had chosen a man who was expecting his first child soon, the public probably wouldn’t know about it, much less be discussing it. Clearly, this discussion is taking place because this particular CEO is a woman. We have a long way to go before we arrive at a place of gender equality.
What’s the Big Deal?
There are indeed women, like Mayer, who have worked hard to achieve equal standing with men in top business positions; simultaneously, negative feelings about men staying home with their children are becoming less prevalent. But if Americans had truly arrived at a shared mindset on gender equality, we wouldn’t be celebrating ridiculous milestones like 18 women running Fortune 500 companies at the same time. This is a horrifically low number to be celebrating! However, when women account for barely more than 3% of Fortune 500 company heads, it is a sadly significant stride for women.
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Women Need Women
Another issue holding women back in the workplace is a serious lack of mentorship opportunities. Women are brilliant at connecting and mentoring each other, but since highly ranked women are hard to come by, most women who are trying to work their way up are going at it alone, with no one to guide or encourage them. Many women are fenced in by boys’ clubs, where they have become the “token woman,” standing alone and unaided. Hopefully, as more women like Mayer advance, they will become a support for others trying to do the same.
What About Men?
The problem is not only that women are struggling to advance in the workplace, but also that men are not valued in the home or expected to be engaged with their children. Women and men alike should be encouraged – and expected – to take leave when they have a new baby, as well as for other significant events in their kids’ lives. Businesses need to embrace the importance of family for both genders. If companies successfully become family-friendly, but only for their female colleagues, then women will still be hurt by having or wanting to have children – and men will continue to beat them out for higher-ranked positions.