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Pregnant at work? Follow Marissa Mayer's playbook

It’s hard enough for any female executive to announce her pregnancy It’s that much more difficult, then, when you’ve just been named the surprise CEO pick for a multibillion-dollar company.
Image: File photo of Marissa Mayer posing at Google's Mountain View, California headquarters
Marissa Mayer was named as Yahoo's CEO in a surprise announcement on July 16, 2012. Noah Berger / X03026
/ Source: Forbes

It’s hard enough for any female executive to announce her pregnancy. Will her company be supportive? Will she be viewed as up to the job? It’s that much more difficult, then, when you’ve just been named the surprise CEO pick for a legendary multibillion-dollar company. That’s why new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s announcement that she’s expecting a baby boy in October will become an instant case study in how to share the news in a classy, professional way. If you’re pregnant, here are three tips you can glean from Mayer’s example.

First, be upfront with your employer (or prospective employer). Mayer played it the right way, informing Yahoo’s CEO search committee about her pregnancy. You want to foster a relationship of trust with your employer; they need to be able to plan in advance, or you risk blindsiding them when you have to go out on leave. Mayer’s good faith was rewarded; reportedly, the Yahoo board didn’t give her pregnancy a second thought in their decision-making process.

Second, when it’s time to go public, control the dialogue. Mayer’s hiring – as an energetic, well-regarded Silicon Valley veteran – was a big enough story on its own. Because of her smart PR timing (she announced her pregnancy via Twitter, several hours after the initial story broke), reporters had already filed the first iterations of their stories, focused on the real news of the day: her ascent to CEO. That move allowed newspapers to insert the update where it belonged – at the tail end of already-completed stories. (After all, you want the story to be “Mayer Named CEO,” not “Can Pregnant Lady Hack It as CEO?”) Most pregnant executives aren’t likely to face Mayer-like levels of public scrutiny, but the lesson holds: make sure the timing is right and that your record of accomplishment (not your biology) always gets first billing.

Third, give just enough information and then move on. Companies need executives who are obsessed with results, not ultrasounds and Baby Bjorns. That’s why Mayer’s strategy of making the announcement early on (just after she was named CEO) is perfect. Any reporters or skeptics who insist on dwelling on her pregnancy can be beaten back with the refrain that it’s old news. Instead, she’s focused on the future. And if she’s able to articulate a clear vision for how Yahoo can regain some of its past luster, she’s the best CEO for the job, pregnant or not.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming "Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future" (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).

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