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Stop telling Marissa and Zuck how to parent

Two of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile CEOs are about to become parents. Facebook (FB) boss Mark Zuckerberg for the first time, and Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer for the second time (or second and third, as she’s expecting twins).

But rather than simply saying “congratulations” and letting them set up cribs in peace, all sorts of armchair nannies have chimed in on how Zuck and/or Marissa should take the full (and generous) paid parental leaves offered by their respective companies.

For example, there was a post today at CNBC.com titled “Marissa Mayer, please take your full maternity leave.” And here’s someone else writing almost the exact same thing about Zuckerberg. And we here at Fortune have not been immune, publishing a post that asked if Mayer’s announced plan to take a brief maternity leave is a sign of “progress or workaholism?” Finally, there is today’s New York Times, which highlights both Mayer and Zuckerberg (who has not yet publicly disclosed his paternity plans) in a story titled “Big leap for parental leave, if workers take it.”

The argument here is that workers take behavior cues from their bosses. If your CEO only takes half (or less) of their allotted parental leave, then you may feel implicit pressure to do the same. What’s the point of offering three or four months of paid leave when no one feels like they can take more than a few weeks?

 

It is a totally valid concern, and I agree that company culture usually flows from the top. But it is heavily outweighed by the importance of letting new parents do what they feel is best for their own families (so long as the child’s welfare isn’t endangered). Yes, even if they are CEOs.

Extended parental leave is supposed to be about increased choice and flexibility, not mandates. If taking less leave is what Marissa Mayer feels is the best option for her and her family, who are we to disagree? Do any of us have insights into how she and her husband split/share parental responsibilities, and why those particular decisions were made? Of course not. How presumptuous to tell someone how much time they should spend away from the office when you don’t even know their kid’s bath-time routine.

And, to be clear, there is nothing that prevents either Mayer or Zuckerberg from changing their mind — either for more or less leave — after their children are born (which, for full disclosure, is what I did).

To be sure, it is incumbent on all CEOs to ensure that employees believe that their benefits are legitimate. But that responsibility should not dictate their own personal parenting choices. Having a newborn is extremely hard work. Don’t make it harder by telling parents that they’re doing it wrong.