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July 23, 2012

HR Issues – Yahoo Appoints Pregnant New CEO

The recent decision of Yahoo to appoint a pregnant woman as CEO has created much in the way of heated discussion both in the US and further afield.

The law in the UK is quite clear on the fact that women cannot be discriminated against in selection for a role due to their expectant status. In reality, it can be difficult to prove that such sex discrimination has taken place but where cases proceed and are proven, employment tribunal awards can be great.

So, what are the long-running arguments here?

Business owners (often male but increasingly also female) do not wish to recruit for a senior role and then have the new recruit disappear from the business for 6-12 months. They also do not wish to suffer a financial detriment during maternity leave or face the hassle of dealing with cover arrangements. Arguably, this might seem a reasonable point of view from a business perspective but this view is not alligned with domestic and european legislation.

The other side of the argument considers that businesses should follow the law and that the most competent person should always be appointed for the job (no matter how senior the post, the gender of the applicant or their pregnancy status) and that businesses can and should be more flexible in attitudes in order to compete in a more modern world. In this way, a larger pool of representative talent will be available and businesses will actually be enriched by the new working arrangements. Arguably, this also seems a reasonable point of view and one which is more likely to comply with the law.

The Yahoo appointment is being heralded as ground-breaking but there are some important differences to consider in comparison with other senior roles:

1. This particular candidate has highly sought-after experience (especially her latest work at Google) and it may therefore be that at Yahoo, the desire for this experience has outweighed any concerns over her short disappearance from the business.

2. She has expressed a desire to work through her pregnancy and to return as soon as possible thereafter and certainly within a couple of weeks (when the law officially allows it). This is not the normal state of affairs.

3. She is a wealthy woman who is likely to be able to pay for external support to assist with her child-raising. This provides her with more options and again, would not be the norm.

So, although not exactly spearheading the way for more female CEO’s or paving the path for more open attitudes to pregnancy in senior roles, it has got people debating the issues. If the new CEO does not return to work after maternity at her planned date or asks to return part-time, then the situation and their reaction to this would really be interesting to follow!

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EH3 8HA