On Monday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that she is expecting identical twin girls by year’s end. According to the blog where she shared the news, Mayer will be “taking limited time away and working throughout,” due at least in part to it being “a unique time in Yahoo!’s transformation.”
By Tuesday, the news was covered worldwide by tech blogs, business press and broadcast outlets—and even a few celebrity tabloids. Though headlines initially focused on the main news at hand (her pregnancy), the coverage began to take a noticeable turn. Journalists were quick to point out that not only the resources availed to a CEO that make a such a brief leave possible (Mayer famously has a nursery in her office), but also the stark dichotomy between Mayer’s aggressive postpartum work schedule and the company’s very generous parental leave.
Yahoo was highly praised when, in April 2013, it made its benefits for new parents among the most generous offered. It provides mothers up to 16 weeks and fathers up to eight weeks of paid New Child Leave, with benefits, whenever they welcome a new child to the family, be it through birth, adoption, foster child placement or surrogacy. The company will also provide up to $500 for daily habits like laundry, house cleaning, groceries, take-out food and child care when employees bring home their new child.
If the CEO is only taking two weeks off to deliver and care for newborn twins (a week per child, some noted or perhaps mocked), is the average Yahoo employee expected to also follow suit? Is the policy on paper only and not something acceptable for parents to put into practice?
What many identify as a new spark to fuel the ongoing debate on parental leave is also an important reminder for communicators: know—and speak to—your audiences. All of them.
Mayer’s announcement perfectly addressed the potential concerns of Yahoo shareholders and Wall Street analysts. She won’t miss a beat running the company, which is in the midst of an important phase in its evolution while dealing with a major matter in her personal life.
She forgot, however, to speak to her employees—a critical audience of 12,500 worldwide, representing a major portion of stakeholders who are critical to the company’s success. Nowhere in her announcement did she suggest that this is a personal choice that should be treated as an exception to an otherwise wonderful “rule” about leave at Yahoo, nor did she acknowledge the tremendous resources at her disposable that makes such a transition possible for her and likely impossible for others. It’s a bold contradiction that went entirely ignored, despite a similar concern—and resulting negative media coverage—discussed during her first pregnancy.
Mayer’s choice is, no doubt, personal and one that is arguably facing unnecessary intense scrutiny. But the growing negative media dialogue on it could have been largely avoided had she not overlooked a very important element of the message for a critical group of stakeholders.
A version of this article first appeared on Version 2.0 Communications.