In-House Counsel, Pregnancy / Paternity, Sexism, Women's Issues

House Rules: Is Marissa Mayer’s Pregnancy ‘Material Knowledge’?

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, is pregnant. And she took the job knowing she was pregnant. And the board hired her with full knowledge that she is pregnant. Holy hell, what is the world coming to? Read the following:

“She joins a small-but-growing group of women leading major public companies in the U.S., pushing the number to 20 female CEOs out of 500, or 4%. However, she sets a precedent as the first woman to ever take the top position while pregnant. Will having her first baby impact her performance or perception as the strong leader that Yahoo desperately needs?” –, July 17, 2012.

Are you kidding me right now? Let’s play Mad-Libs and change some of the words in that paragraph to “first black woman” and “[w]ill being black impact her performance or perception.” Is the new paragraph more or less offensive? I would argue that both are disgusting….

Some Wall Street bloviators have framed the issue as one of “material knowledge.” In other words, the issue of Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy is so very material to traders that it should have been disclosed when she was hired. Presumably so folks could make trading decisions with the full benefit of knowing the status of Ms. Mayer’s womb. I can’t wait for the plaintiff’s firms to start banging away at the inevitable non-disclosure suits. Does Buffett disclose his annual physical? Did not the venerable Apple refuse to disclose the nature of Jobs’ illness? I am well aware that Buffett recently disclosed his illness, as did Jobs, but is it really material? The disinfectant of sunshine was supposed to allow traders to invest with full disclosure of a company’s financial health and future growth potential, not whether the star of a cult of personality is sick, or pregnant.

And yes, I am going there – it is revolting in 2012 that we are still having tired arguments over a woman’s ability to govern a corporation depending upon her “strength.” Is not that the real issue here? Is Ms. Mayer “strong” enough to hold down a job while managing a baby? Will she cry at unreasonable times? Will she have post partum depression? God forbid, what if she has a c-section and ruins her perfectly toned stomach. She is after all, one of the “hottest CEOs” (Forbes again, citing Reddit to be fair, but still).

See, this crap still goes on in business and in law firms. Since I am a lawyer for a business, these apply here. I have heard every kind of racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc. statement from all levels of lawyer -– from student to Judge. And the most pathetic aspect is that no one ever said anything. Oh, we all shook our heads behind the speaker’s back and said, wow, that’s wrong. But no one, including me, ever did a damned thing. I know there are stories of partners or judges or associates who finally crossed the line into behavior that could be documented or deemed criminal so that there was no way to cover up. But in offices today there are still those who would question the qualification of a woman, a gay man, a black person, etc. to do the job for which they were hired.

Next comes the “well, why can’t we all be judged on an even scale,” trope. Because we are not all judged on an even scale. Do a bit of reading today and see how many vaunted and respected writers are making some sort of statement about Marissa Mayer’s looks allowing her to succeed. Or count how many snarks there are about her sleeping her way to the top. Bill Cosby was the funniest black comedian, Anderson Cooper is gay and Marissa Mayer is pregnant.

Rather than focus on the easiest target, why aren’t more people questioning her ability to pick Yahoo out of the rubble, or if her choice to leave Google for Yahoo was even sane? What will happen to Yahoo remains to be seen. For those few still holding shares, this may be a good thing. But two things are for certain. Ms. Mayer is going to have a baby in October, and we’re all going to be reading about it. Only one of those two things should be acceptable in today’s business world.

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at

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