Depending who you ask, Yahoo's decision to hire Marissa Mayer several months into her pregnancy is either a boon to all working mothers or a misstep for the ailing tech company.
"Talk about lousy timing. She'll be taking maternity leave when she needs to be at work. Yahoo has enough problems without a part-time CEO," one commenter said in response to the Fortune article announcing news of her pregnancy.
"It is quite possible that she can do both effectively, but it is not un-'evolved' to express concern," another said, referring to Mayer's comment that Yahoo's directors demonstrated "evolved thinking" in choosing to hire a pregnant chief executive.
"As a Yahoo shareholder, I am very concerned and have every reason to be."
It's possible that Mayer anticipated these reactions when she revealed her plan to work during her maternity leave so she could "stay in the rhythm of things." Her announcement reignited an already hot debate over whether women can "have it all" and how family leave policies make it hard to juggle a successful career and family.
But Mayer isn't your typical working mother, and some believe her experience reflects the extreme demands that corporate America places on men and women alike and how that translates to national policy.
Besides, the demands of motherhood only grow with time, author and activist Gloria Feldt said. That's when benefits such as flexible scheduling, reduced work weeks and the option to work from home really make a difference in helping women get as close as possible to having it all.
"Life only gets busier as your children grow, and that's where flexible benefits comes in," she said. "We have a long way to go as a country when it comes to making those benefits accessible to everyone."
iReporter Jennifer Compton was away from work for 12 weeks after the birth of her son, Jack. But that hasn't made returning any easier, she said.
Having flexible hours and remote cameras in day cares would help ease the transition, she said.
"Before, I got to spend all day with my son, and now it's only two or three hours in the evening," the human resources manager said in an iReport submitted to CNN.com. "I want more time with my little guy, but I have to take what I can get. ... It's hard to balance everything."
'Superhuman, rich or self-employed'
That Mayer's pregnancy is a matter of concern to some even though it wasn't for Yahoo's board (as Mayer tells it) reflects a double-standard, Feldt said.
"It's very common for companies to negotiate time off upfront with a new hire. If she were a man, no one would judge her for taking time off, regardless of the reason," said Feldt, author of "No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power."
Nearly 61% of women with children younger than 3 and 56% of women with children younger than 1 were in the labor force in 2011, according to Catalyst, an organization that tracks women's advancement in the workplace, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics. But ambivalence over their participation in the work force seems to persist.
A 2009 Pew Research Center report found that 21% of adults said the trend toward more mothers working outside the home had been good for society; 37% said it had been bad and 38% said it hasn't made much difference.
Women reported feeling stressed about balancing work and family, the report said, with 40% of working moms saying they always feel rushed compared with 24% of the general public and 26% of stay-at-home moms. As for working dads, 25% said they always feel rushed.
This month's Atlantic magazine cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," has stoked intense debate on the topic.
Former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter proposes that the only women who manage to reach the pinnacle of their careers while raising a family are "superhuman, rich or self-employed." Slaughter chronicles her decision to leave Washington and return to academia so she can play a larger role in raising her sons, using her personal journey as a jumping off point to examine the decisions and barriers women face in balancing a career with family.
In Twitter exchanges this week punctuated with the hashtag #havingitall, the Princeton University professor applauded Mayer's appointment at Yahoo but noted that it seemed to prove her thesis.