There are lots of things that get me fired up these days: the shrinking middle class; corporate greed; politicians behaving like kindergarteners who haven’t had a nap and refuse to play nice — ever. But what’s got me fired up lately is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s mandate that all telecommuting employees must start reporting to work at the company’s corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley starting in June.
Her logic? Mayer’s now-infamous directive included phrases like “promoting innovation” and the need to “be working side-by-side.” And while the 37-year-old CEO has a stellar track record as a longtime executive and key spokesperson for Google prior to taking over as CEO for Yahoo in 2012 — a company she was clearly hired to turn around in record time — here’s what’s more important to know about her: She’s a wife, a new mom and and the first woman ever to give birth while heading a Fortune 500 company.
While this is clearly a business-based decision, I’m less interested in the bullet points that drove Mayer’s directive and more concerned with what the move means for the future of working women. In a culture where women have the opportunity to outearn men, and where more and more women are assuming leadership positions at all levels of society (government, corporations, entertainment, etc.), our personal and professional culture hasn’t evolved much to accommodate this new normal … that is, unless you’re a member of the elite one percent, which Mayer clearly is.
While Mayer can afford to juggle career, family and marriage — having a nursery built next door to her office — the majority of working women in this country don’t have the same luxury. This includes many of Yahoo’s telecommuting class and hundreds of thousands of other men and women who have joined the legions of telecommuters who successfully juggle work and family only because they get to work from home.
What happens to these working families now? Has Mayer’s decision flipped working women everywhere the proverbial bird? Take the working women at Yahoo, whose telecommuting careers effectively end June 1. How many of them can afford to relocate to Silicon Valley, to an office life away from home and bear the financial burden of nannies, day care or other childcare arrangements they’ll now need? How many of these women will now have to make the difficult choice between working outside the home to earn a living or quit their job to stay home with their kids? And from a cultural perspective, how many other companies will follow suit in ending their telecommuting policies like Mayer?
In doing research for this article, I read a lot about the pros and cons of Mayer’s decision. The most startling position I encountered came from Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, who made headlines last year with her controversial article in The Atlantic on why women “still can’t have it all.”
Slaughter recently blogged that “Marissa Mayer is a CEO first and a woman second. Indeed, she is a role model for many precisely because she made it to the top job.” Excuse me? When was the last time a male CEO’s corporate decisions were dissected, defended and/or blasted because of his gender? So, why the distinction for a woman? And what does this say about a woman’s ability to lead? Is she only effective if she makes decisions “like a man?”
What would be wrong if the country’s first female CEO who gave birth while running a company also championed the rights of working women everywhere? Wouldn’t a female CEO be more effective if she celebrated her gender rather than sweeping it under the rug as if saying “Oops, I’ve got ovaries. My bad!”?
Marissa Mayer — and all CEOs everywhere who are considering a move like Meyer’s — I get that you are making decisions based on the greater good of the corporation. But what about the greater good of the men and women who work for you, who are more than a name on an org chart, who work hard to earn a living and have earned the right to balance work and family? Their version of work-life balance may look dramatically different from your adjoining cubicle-style-nursery so you can live at the office, but it’s no less valuable and their contributions should be no less valued.
What are YOUR thoughts on women and the workplace? Post your comments below.