Marissa Mayer, new CEO of Yahoo! Photo: Vogue

When news hit that ailing tech giant Yahoo! hired Google VP Marissa Mayer as the company’s CEO, the buzz in offices everywhere began almost immediately. With Mayer at the helm, the terminally uncool and financially unstable Yahoo! finally had a chance to be a fresh, relevant player once again.

The “Good Mom” Debate Begins

The buzz went from a loud hum to a deafening roar, when, hours after the appointment was announced, Mayer disclosed to Fortune that she was expecting her first child in October. Heralded as a transformational figure and a trailblazer, Mayer instantly became a hero for working mothers everywhere. As one reporter wrote, “Not having it all is so last week.”

Yet, the overwhelmingly positive reactions to Mayer’s appointment began to flag when she announced, “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long, and I’ll work throughout it.” Countless moms took to the Internet to warn Mayer that she had no idea what she was in for.

In an open letter to Mayer, one woman wrote,

“You’re a powerful woman, but I have a feeling you’re going to be putty in your son’s little hands from Day One. I can’t fully explain the extent to which your priorities will shift when you have a baby. I predict you’ll soon consider him the greatest accomplishment of your very accomplished life.”

Given Mayer’s reputation for a relentless commitment to her work, and the sizable task in front of her to turn around an Internet company on the brink of irrelevancy, the shock with which people reacted to news of Mayer’s postpartum plan was puzzling – at least to those of us in industries like financial services, where short maternity leaves have become the norm.

Abbreviated Maternity Leave: Is it the New Norm?

The tech industry is very similar to the world of financial services. Both demand long hours worked under high stress. Both have reputations for attracting the best and brightest. They promise high levels of risk and reward. And both are notorious boy’s clubs with very few women holding leadership positions.

In both industries, a long maternity leave can be impractical for many new moms looking to maintain career momentum. For Mayer, who’s just stepped into the most senior role at a company with a plummeting public opinion and shareholders who are at best frustrated with the state of the business watching her every move, a long maternity leave simply would not be feasible.

In the wake of Mayer’s announcement, the New York Times examined the trend towards abbreviated maternity leaves among high-achieving women. In that piece, Jenny Van Leeuwen Harrington, CEO at Gilman Hill Asset Management, is quoted as saying a long maternity leave, “wasn’t in the cards for me. No point in dwelling on it.”

In a piece for The Guardian, Julia Llewellyn writes:

To pretend you can reach the top and take long career breaks is disingenuous. It fools young women into thinking their ride can be just as smooth. The truth is that women who enjoy frequent, long maternity leaves  damage their career prospects.

Every woman has the right to figure out what works best for her, her family and her career. For Mayer and many like her, it means creating a support system that allows her to be both a new mother and a CEO, and with a rumored pay package of $100 million over five years, at least she’ll have the financial resources to get the top-notch help she will need.

If Marissa Mayer is the publicity-hound that some of her former Google colleagues claim she is, then here’s hoping that she can find some enjoyment in the intense scrutiny that being the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 Company will bring her. If one thing’s certain, it’s that the public scrutiny has only just begun.

What do you think about Mayer’s plan for an abbreviated maternity leave? Would it work for you?

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