Family Matters

Viewpoint: How Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Is Building a Nursery By Her Office, and Dissing Working Moms

Is Mayer's ban on working from home blow to working mothers?

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Peter Kramer / NBC / Getty Images

Marissa Mayer on NBC News' Today show.

Toward the end of this week’s much-heralded PBS Makers documentary, a retrospective of influential and trailblazing doyennes who are the past and future of the women’s movement, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer comes on to decry feminism.

The timing was far from ideal, considering that days earlier she issued a much-criticized edict requiring Yahoo employees to close up their home offices and report to work in an office come June. “When Marissa Mayer directed all employees never to work from home, I understood why she said she isn’t a feminist,” activist Gloria Steinem wrote in an email. “Maybe she really isn’t!” Steinem, prominent in Makers, elaborated Tuesday night on PBS Newshour, noting that “not everybody in this film is a heroine either.”

The clip in question dates back a year, when Mayer was a key Googler and before she assumed the reins at Yahoo. But the message was clear:

“I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist…I don’t I think have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that…There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women. I think that there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy.”

In a Salon retort headlined, “Free Your Workers,” Irin Carmon argues it’s a mistake to flippantly dismiss the existence of gender discrimination in the workplace as “negative energy.”

“That implies that merely acknowledging discrimination and existing gender roles in the world, and trying to work with them, is allowing yourself to be defeated by them. But the true defeatism lies in thinking that you don’t need policies that help everyone be able to participate, including working from home, and then wondering why your turnover is so high or your employees are so miserable.”

(MORE: Marissa Mayer: Is the Yahoo! CEO’s Pregnancy Good for Working Moms?)

It’s amazing how quickly Mayer’s image has tarnished. Last year, she was Yahoo’s golden girl, a pregnant woman cheered on by legions of working moms as she took the helm of the struggling tech titan. Now, she’s the tough-as-nails, whip-cracking, anti-family crusader.

The transformation wasn’t entirely unexpected, however. Mayer famously announced that she intended to take a brief maternity leave, prompting patronizing virtual pats on the back. “There, there,” we wizened mothers told her. “Having a baby will rock your world. There’s no way you’ll be back as soon as you think.” But there she was at her desk, two weeks post-partum.

Alas, with her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it maternity leave and her new policy banning working from home, it feels like Mayer is throwing darts at working parents everywhere. Her stand is even more egregious considering she’s apparently built herself a set-up most moms can only dream of: a nursery — paid for out of her own pocket — adjacent to her company office. “I wonder what would happen if my wife brought our kids and nanny to work and set ’em up in the cube next door?” wondered a husband on AllThingsD. His wife, a Yahoo employee, will soon have to stop working from home.

Some, like Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, cautioned from the start against making Mayer into a champion of working mothers everywhere. “I hope they don’t set her up and watch her every move,” Galinsky told me in July when Mayer became CEO. “If we’re normalizing this, whatever happens to her — if she does well, if she doesn’t do well — it shouldn’t mean that other women who are pregnant shouldn’t be hired for senior jobs. She should not have to become the symbol of her generation.”

Yet it was impossible not to pin high hopes on the new mom sitting at the helm of a major tech company. As a mom of a newborn, surely she’d see the value in allowing women — and men — to work in such a way that they don’t feel they’re cutting corners. Work-at-home parents aren’t asking to do less; they’re just asking to get the job done in a way that helps them balance work and family.

(MORE: The Motherhood Penalty: We’re in the Midst of a ‘Mom-Cession’)

As it is, working mothers with identical resumes to men are 79% less likely to be hired and 100% less likely to be promoted than working dads, according to research in the American Sociological Review. It’s part of what’s known as the “motherhood penalty,” says Brian Serafini, a doctoral student who found that married mothers take longer to find new jobs and earn less than married fathers once they do.

Why not let those who manage to overcome those obstacles work where they want to? Certainly there’s value in face time, but studies have shown that flexible schedules boost efficiency, retention and morale.

Lest this sound solely like a defense of my own work-from-home set-up, take it from Brad Harrington, who heads Boston College’s Center for Work and Family. He’s found that committed parents are often synonymous with committed employees.

“People who are high-energy, they’re talented, they’re the kind of people who are in demand within the workplace,” Harrington told NECN.com. “They’re also…the kind of people who are going home trying to be engaged with their children, coaching, being involved in community activities and so forth. They’re high-energy and high-engagement kinds of individuals.’’

Of course, all that energy tends to fizzle from time to time. New research in the Journal of Vocational Behavior finds that women are more likely than men to report that work interferes with everything from taking care of their health to maintaining relationships with friends and partners. With Mayer’s decision to keep her own kid close while decreeing the opposite for her employees, it might be worth considering what else her ban on working from home interferes with — morale.

MORE: About that Atlantic Article, Why Working from Home Isn’t the Answer for Working Moms

124 comments
SalmanMehmood
SalmanMehmood

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AdamYuret
AdamYuret

%s I don't think she woke up one morning and thought "How can I finally get revenge on all those working moms?" %s

AdamYuret
AdamYuret

@CatSwetel I think she's trying to fix a screwed up culture and needs ppl in house. Though it's funny seeing all the outrage on the tubes.

ToddSullivan
ToddSullivan

@mattrixdotinfo see? why work from home, just build 4000sqft next to your office! easy solution

_Continuum
_Continuum

I think Marissa Mayer has failed to understand how collaboration works. It can happen anywhere- in an office setting or athome. With advancements in technology, both productivity and innovation is possible. I work for Continuum, a global design and innovation consultancy. We collaborate on a global scale every day. In and out of the office, we help our clients innovate in great ways. My colleague Mark Bates wrote a blog post entitled “Yahoo! and the Misperception of Collaboration.” This post touches on how we interact and collaborate as human beings and this really hasn’t changed for centuries. What has changed is technology. You can read more here: http://continuuminnovation.com/yahoo-and-the-misperception-of-collaboration/

LaMarEstaba
LaMarEstaba

Irresponsible reporting - The reporter cut out an extremely salient portion of Mayer's Makers quote, which I am adding in its entirety:

"I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that, I certainly believe in equal rights. I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions. But I don’t, I think, have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word. There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy."

From Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/marissa-mayer-criticizes-feminism-2013-2#ixzz2MXOjtqJt

Definition of feminism: "The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." 

If the definition of feminism is equality, then Mayer is a feminist, whether she chooses to use that word or not. If she chooses to reject the idea of being a feminazi, that, to me, is ok.

predsicker
predsicker

This writer doesn't know what she's talking about. Silly article.

beaugreenvillesc
beaugreenvillesc

Who is this writer to say that Meyer's reputation is tarnished? She made the choice she felt would improve Yahoo's efficiency. A leader must have the courage to make tough choices that are often not popular. People like this writer will whine and say she betrayed her feminist fans. But Meyer is a free women and does not owe anybody anything. She can afford that nursery because she worked her tail off in school where she developed the skill set to rise to where she is today, a high paying job. If women want to be treated equally, they should be expected to do the same things men can, like show up to work. I know that women are just as capable as men, but weak excuse making writers like this Bonnie Rochman serve as a voice for whiners everywhere. 

freetruth76
freetruth76

The US$200MM mom, who got a job at Google early days by dating one of the co-founders, is not the example for the 50MM moms in the US. They cannot afford a cook, three nannies, a stand by doctor, and building a nursery at the workplace, as well as having a dedicated driver... She is arrogant.  But Silicon Valley nerds love her. She is blonde, and nerdy, and defers to the local misognystic culture. THere are much more exemplar and powerful women in the bay area. Let us seek them as examples. 

reigndropz
reigndropz

“Can we agree on one thing...the whole "I" should be able to WFH because it is better for "MY" life and "I" have kids who need "ME" and "MY" family wants me home for dinner, etc,.is the epitome of white, middle class, female, privilege? Assuming that your JOB should be tailored to fit "YOUR" life as opposed to what works for the company is exactly why more bosses should be cutting this option out all together. Ask any person who telecommutes why they WFH and the first response you will likely get is a spiel of just how convenient it is for "THEM" not that it allows them time to contribute more to their company's success (that statement only seems to come up when there is a threat of losing the WFH privilege or their explanations are challenged).

Its not Mayer's responsibility to supply an onsite daycare with around the clock nannies. She did not ask them to conceive or give birth! If she has this for her kid, fine, apparently she makes enough money to do that, you, on the other hand, do not. so suck it up!
If you chose to work from home, then fine, but you should be paid less and receive less vacation time and benefits than your onsite counterparts. Not having the burden of the rising cost of fuel, vehicle maintenance, and childcare should suffice.There are too many talented, unemployed people who would give a kidney to work any company let alone Yahoo.

TheForumCorp
TheForumCorp

Marissa Mayer’s decision and the controversy surrounding it serve as a reminder that what works at one company may fail at another. To ensure that the process works smoothly, Maggie Walsh, Ph.D., vice president and practice lead – leadership, Forum, suggests following the principles outlined in the “REACH” model of effective remote leadership http://ow.ly/ibccP

Gwen Gordon
Gwen Gordon

It says near her company's office...is it for everyone to use? Better info please...misleading article...boo

UntoldEnt
UntoldEnt

@UntoldEnt @sashaboersma That one fact, for me, blows her entire move out of the water. She's an absolute snake.

Ivan
Ivan

Mellisa should get herself a blackberry and transport back to Stone age where she came from via some form of time machine...

Christie
Christie

The decision to end telecommuting seems peculiar, especially for a high tech company, but without having real inside information about the situation at Yahoo it seems like we should all just wait and see.  Mayer may--or may not--have made a good strategic decision in dealing with issues specific to Yahoo at this point.  Time will tell.  Her comments about feminism concern me more.  I really wonder if she realizes that she almost certainly would not be where she is today without feminists over the years working on behalf of equal employment opportunities for women.  As someone who is quite a bit older, I know what it was like in the 50s and 60s for women who wanted to become, as she did, an engineer or follow some other typically male profession.  When I was in high school, women were pretty much expected to become teachers, nurses, or secretaries if they really felt the need to work outside the home.  While I was in grade school, I was the only member of my entire class who had a full-time working mother.  She faced a lot of discrimination until late in her working years as men she trained received promotion after promotion while she and the other women in her office remained in the lowest level jobs.  Further, one wonders just why Mayers has such a distorted view of what feminism is.  In addition, if Mayers is pulling rank to have a nursery available for her child (whether or not she paid for it herself), I would hope that she would be open to providing on-site child-care for other working parents.  Unless, I've missed it, it doesn't seem that she is.  Put all these things together and one does begin to question her judgment. 

lizaj
lizaj

@brontyman @TIMEHealthland Dads sometime work too.

phillipgreen85
phillipgreen85

I'm more interested in understanding why people feel like they deserve this treatment. It's a PERK of a job, not a guarantee. If this is what's needed to get the company back to growth and future profitability, then everyone's going to work out of the office. If you balk about her methods, then go find another job. In fact, if she doesn't make changes like this, there's a very good chance that Yahoo! employees might be involuntarily back in the job market. 

pepecamil
pepecamil

Well, this is one side to the story. Have you heard the reason she is making all home office people come back? People were slacking, even some people were MIA and still collecting salary. This is what happens when people abuse working conditions, now the just have to pay for the sinners....

seanlamontlove
seanlamontlove

@simplesocial She is the Ceo. She can do what she wants. My old boss was a woman & brought her kids to work all the time. I had no problem.

dirtyharry
dirtyharry

Follow the money.  Mayer can afford her politics just as Steinem can.  Watching the PBS special I am reminded of how most if not all of the women interviewed shared two common themes: they had financial resources inherited or from divorces and they were artists, writers, or journalists.  Hardly a representative group for feminine Americans.  Take the money away form Mayer and she will change her tune.

jrfackler
jrfackler

To be clear, other than the headline, I didn’t read a single sentence of this article but I am beginning to be amused at all the opinions people like Rochman seem to have about Mayer and the idea that we as readers actually care what they think. One day Rochman and other feminists are lamenting the fact that there aren’t enough female CEO’s at major companies and the next day they seem to take pleasure in seconding-guessing one of the most respected and successful women in business. Mayer’s long track record speaks volumes and the last thing she needs is the advice, critical judgments, or inconsequential opinions from feminists who believe she isn’t living up to their ideal of a female leader. Mayer will be judged by the future success of Yahoo, period. Give her the respect and freedom to make the tough choices that she believes are necessary to achieve that success.

Chaton
Chaton

Marissa Mayer did not have an obligation to feminists, nor did she have any obligations to women in general. As CEO, her obligation is to the Yahoo shareholders. That being said, this move, which will undoubtedly cause the company to lose employees who have built their lives around working remotely, was shortsighted for the shareholders.  Replacing employees is expensive.  Also, Yahoo is a tech company and should be promoting the use of technology to improve efficiency and collaboration in the workplace.  Also, I can't imagine that all of this bad press is good for the stock either.  Companies are saved and destroyed by radical ideas. Time will tell what the effect of this idea is on Yahoo.  As I wrote about in a recent piece, I simply don't get it. http://www.parentsociety.com/mom/working-moms/marissa-mayer-policies/

Alejandro F. Martinez
Alejandro F. Martinez

Mrs. Mayer is trying to save the company. Sorry for certain employees that find some changes uncorfortable. It would be worse to have no company to work for at all... Sometimes a little sacrifice from one's amenities works for a better good.

Tess Pasqua Wigginton
Tess Pasqua Wigginton

Honestly, I think her big mistake was building the nursery. Calling in the telecommuters might have been a difficult but necessary move to help right the ship at Yahoo. But don't rub it in the faces of your employees who now must find daycare for their children by taking advantage of your extreme privilege by building a nursery for *your* baby.

Iris Dai
Iris Dai

I'm from the Bay area...people who can work from home are software engineers, or tech supports, etc. This is not a smart move, it shows Yahoo is desperate. Also, don't forget CEO is in different class as workers.

AbNormal
AbNormal

Jeez louise! How did a term like feminism that afforded women the right to vote and participate in the workplace get hijacked, and supposedly smart people like Ms. Meyer succumb to the negative connotion instead of the original meaning of the word?!?! 

I think Ms. Meyer should look up "feminism" in the dictionary: advocacy of women's rights, political, social or economic equality to men. It means having the right to vote, apply for the same jobs they're qualified for (but *not* entitled to the same jobs like firemen mind you). 

Calling all rational people, if you believe women should be able to vote, own property, run for office, drive, not get stoned to death for adultery, have pre-marital sex, you're a feminist! (to echo Caitlin Moran)

Angel Concepcion
Angel Concepcion

Those who felt so entitled and are dissed, go get new jobs.

Jason Sallas
Jason Sallas

Why are folks complaining that she's building a nursery? ?-/ isn't that a good thing? Lol

EllynLetters
EllynLetters

@brochman When the lines between work and home blur, I feel like everything ends up feeling like work. Not sure that's the smartest move

Yvette Marie Gaudreau
Yvette Marie Gaudreau

yes she is. throwing her power around by benefiting herself while taking the privilege away from the workers

Ginger Konnis
Ginger Konnis

Work is work, end of story. If your a mommy and want to stay home, then stay home or hire a sitter and get a full or part time job. I don't feel it's the mothers job to stay home. My friend works while her husband stays home and watches the kids. But we should not require companies to organize their company around your life. If you find a company that meets your maternal needs then good for you but it's backwards for employees to dictate how a business is run.

calthree
calthree

@TIME @timehealthland: Does Marissa forgot not all working moms can afford nannies? Or does Yahoo plans to offices with nanny service too?

Joel Alvarez
Joel Alvarez

Good way to clear the dead wood. If you are alienated by having to show up at work, you were not engaged to begin with.

Rich Wang
Rich Wang

The media is harping on this as a cheap form of click bait when in reality none of the writers of these articles have any idea what they are talking about. Yahoo is a bloated, disjointed company and there is not much visibility on what a lot of remote workers do there. This initiative is a brilliant way of getting their house back in order without having to dole out severance packages or unemployment to those who refuse to engage.

Amber Isaidit Taylor
Amber Isaidit Taylor

no one would care if she was a man that told everyone to come back to work

Sherri Gayle
Sherri Gayle

Right now she thinks she has the world by the tail and can do it all - alienating many in that pursuit. Just wait until reality kicks in ... the baby is teething - company morale low and the shit hits the fan. She may be very bright but not wise. Employees can make or break a person in a leadership position very quickly ...

JoanneDunn
JoanneDunn

Oh for heavens sakes, she made a decision which has NOTHING to do with gender. I don't think its at all a bad decision.

Zen Ruby
Zen Ruby

Women in positions of power quite often act more "macho" than their male counterparts -- much to their detriment. She's being extremely short sighted here. For one thing, Yahoo is an internet company, which relies on the fast-moving techno world that we now live in. Therefore, these traditional norms of 9 to 5 schedules and employees stationed like veal cows in tiny cubicles is completely outdated. Technology has allowed people to be in two places at once. No longer do executives need to spend countless days travelling around the country or the world to take a meeting with someone outside their fair city. If teleconferencing and webconferencing are now very much a norm, than so should be work from home positions. And having some employees work from home would certainly cut costs with regard to the amount of real estate/office space and resources used in the office. In addition to that, she's publicly being hypocritical by bringing her own "home" (i.e., newborn baby) to the workplace with her. Why then can she not see the value in others being allowed to move their workplace to their home? I don't see a bright future for Ms. Mayer...at least not as the head of an innovative team.

Katarina Hit
Katarina Hit

If she thinks there's an issue that can be fixed by eliminating work-from-home options that's fine, but it seems hypocritical to build a nursery for herself. What about all the other working parents at Yahoo? Do they have an on-site daycare? Do they get to bring in cribs or build nurseries on their floors?

Avi Ga
Avi Ga

No one can comment on this without seeing the inside state of yahoo, this decision is very context specific and should not be generalized! just wait and see if this lady can change things around for yahoo, if she can make it again a leader from the brinks of failure, then she is gonna be the next steve jobs and then everyone will suck it up to her saying how they always admired her bla bla bla.... and I am really rooting for a female heroine in the tech industry.

JKurian77
JKurian77

@carenye Its been built already..she did it out of her own cash but still..pretty cheeky

pellZ
pellZ

@TIME @TIMEHealthland somehow I don't sympathize. I work in a field where women drop their baby at 6wks and work 80 hrs