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No need to stay mum on facts of working life

Marissa Mayer
MARISSA MAYER: Widely considered to be among the internet industry's brightest executives.

She said her baby was ''easy'' - curse you, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer.

Another woman said raising five children ''was hard work'' - curse you, too, stay-at-home mother and US first lady runner-up Ann Romney.

After seeing all the jackal attacks on famous women who talk about motherhood, I'm sure Buckingham Palace is already putting together a PR strategy for how the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge should talk about her baby.

With all the choices facing women today, there is one discomforting constant: someone will always be there to tell us we're doing it wrong, whatever we're doing.

The newest round of the mummy wars over balancing work and life came when Mayer, the head of Yahoo!, broke new ground by being one of the first chief executives to speak publicly about parenthood.

''The thing that surprised me is that the job is really fun ... and the baby's been easy. The baby's been way easier than everyone made it out to be. I've been really lucky that way,'' Mayer has said, prompting a firestorm.

Some women thought Mayer, with her huge salary and paid support staff, was setting too high a bar for other women, who might struggle with not-so-easy babies, financial constraints and a job outside the home.

Of course, that means Krispy, the shift manager at the local diner, will now be empowered to fire his swing-shift waitress when she's late after a night with a colicky baby. ''Whatsa matter witchu? Marissa Mayer can make it to work on time with a kid at home, why can't you?'' he'll snarl, before putting out his cig in her coffee cup.

It's hard to say that fear is wrong - we have light years to go before we have family-friendly workplaces.

But here's the deal: every child is different, every mother is different and talking about it is the only way to make progress.

Yes, Mayer undoubtedly has great paid support. She probably isn't running out to buy the groceries in her lunch hour, vacuuming while attached to a breast pump, or showing up with the perpetual vomit on her lapel because the child erped on her way out the door.

But the truth is, those of us who do or have done all that aren't also chief executives of a multibillion-dollar company with 12,000 employees whose business strategies are analysed by Goldman Sachs and whose leadership decisions are instantly translated into percentage points on the New York Stock Exchange.

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I sincerely hope she has a supportive spouse and quality childcare that will help her with the baby - whether he's ''easy'' or not - while she takes the helm of a big technology company.

Hearing Mayer addressing her role as a mother in any fashion is refreshing. It breaks down the idea women have to act like men and leave behind anything that reminds people they are women to make it in the business world.

Take the empowerment talks of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, who encourages young women to forge ahead while admitting she concealed for years that she left the office at 5.30pm to be home with her children.

Talking about that is daring. Women made up only 14.1 per cent of executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies last year, even though we are 46.6 per cent of the workforce.

But it can't be only up to chief executives to be the role models representing working mothers.

Romney was right. Even with a huge pot of resources and no outside job, raising five children is harrowing and fantastic and all consuming.

Imagine how hard it is for a parent with no partner, limited income and no choice but to work outside the home. It's an issue that was barely addressed in the presidential campaign.

Each time one of these women - whether Romney or Mayer - speaks publicly about the balance of work and parenting, we get a little closer to understanding this is an issue about families, about society, about the wellness of our community. And keeping quiet about it doesn't solve anything.

You want to know when real progress is made? When we hear a chief executive's speech that includes tales of long, colicky nights - from a dad.

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