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

123 comments
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....

CatSwetel
CatSwetel

@AdamYuret she has made some extremely iffy comments in her pre-yahoo past, as well. i don't see how being a tyrant will fix culture.

sandifjm
sandifjm

@LaMarEstaba Women like her don't need to be "feminists" as they've grown up in an era when many of the battles have already been won, and the things that the original feminists were fighting for are now considered normal.  Once upon a time, the "radical" act of believing in equality would have definitely made her a feminist. Similarly, I'm not a civil rights activist. Because of the hard work and sacrifice of countless people, I don't have to be.

ElizabethDaugherty
ElizabethDaugherty

@beaugreenvillesc 

Apparently, you don't live in Palo Alto, Redwood City or the surrounding areas.  Mayer has one hell of a reputation and it's not a good one.  It never has been a good one.  She's always been known as a whip-cracking, two-faced, hypocritical, obsessed, career-driven Queen Bee who requires her employees to do one thing while she does something else.

Forget FMLA and any kind of maternity leave at Yahoo.  If you're not back after two weeks, you can be entirely sure that you will wind up on her "sh!t list".  And make no mistake: you are safer on a mafia hit list than Marissa Mayer's sh!t list.  She has no thought, consideration or sympathy for the employees at Yahoo or Google where her reputation for tyranny was legend.  She is a Have and anyone who works for her is immediately a Have Not and not worthy to polish her shoes.  Think Leona Helmsley with blonde hair.

You don't go to school to learn a "skill set" to become a CEO...it doesn't work like that.  She stepped on a lot of people and sold her soul numerous times to get to where she is.  That's not a skill set you learn at Stanford.  That's a skill set you learn by jettisoning your soul (if Mayer even had one to begin with).  

She's cold, calculating, bitter and has a vindictive mean streak a mile wide.  Expect huge turnover at Yahoo if it hasn't already started.  Luckily for those who live in that area, even in this economy, tech jobs in the Silicon are plentiful.  But high turnover numbers, bad Glassdoor.com reviews and low employee morale will not help Mrs. Mayer and her Next Door Nursery.

sandifjm
sandifjm

@reigndropz Wow, you sound really open-minded and flexible. I wish you were my boss. </sarcasm>  Building and maintaining good morale among your employees is an effective way to increase employee engagement, productivity, and reduce turnover. What's good for the employees IS what's good for the company. I'm not white or female (not sure why that was relevant), but working from home occasionally is something that my boss encourages, and it works very well for everyone involved. I won't even bother with your dig at working parents. I'm so glad that I don't work for people like you anymore.

sashaboersma
sashaboersma

@untoldent no matter what though, the approach/tone of that memo read quite insulting.

sashaboersma
sashaboersma

@untoldent others have said it's b/c Google doesn't allow for telecommunting, so she's trying to replicate that culture.

sashaboersma
sashaboersma

@untoldent of course, others are asking if any work has actually been measured to determine if that's the problem.

sashaboersma
sashaboersma

@untoldent I've heard the logic works only b/c Yahoo is struggling and something has to happen to change things up.

ThomasGeiger
ThomasGeiger

@Christian DeLuca Except for Marissa Mayer who builds a nursery in the office. Because all are created equal just some are more equal than others, right?

brontyman
brontyman

@lizaj @TIMEHealthland Thank you for remembering all the working fathers at home!

ElizabethDaugherty
ElizabethDaugherty

@phillipgreen85   that would be no novelty for the Silicon Valley.  Even in this recession, tech jobs are plentiful there.  I've fielded hundreds of phone calls a week from "talent stealers"...recruiters desperate to fill jobs that they go cold calling employees at various tech companies to try to lure them away.

It's a situation that is pretty much unique to every city except the bubble of the Silicon Valley.  Mayer knows she can replace people in a minute with other workers but talented developers will stay away from her and her tyrannical issues because they can go someplace else that will allow them to work from home.  All Mayer will be left with is the dregs of less talented developers, a high turnover rate, bad Glassdoor.com reviews and sagging profits.   Not her smartest move when Yahoo is already in trouble.

ElizabethDaugherty
ElizabethDaugherty

@CatSwetel @AdamYuret 

I've worked with a lot of women and for a lot of women.  9 out of 10 women in "power positions" are witch hunting tyrants who do not govern with objectivity but with jealous, emotional subjectivity.  They, like the Marissa Mayers before them and after them, will continue to give women in the working environment a bad name.

Mayer wants absolute control and power and every employee under her thumb.  So yes, CatSweet, is IS a tyrannical decision.   She's not there to "fix culture" office or otherwise nor to cultivate relationships.  She's there to run a company and produce results.  So far, her tyranny has decreased office morale, increased resentment and given the area where Yahoo is, given a lot of employees the incentive to work elsewhere.

Expect high turnover at Yahoo.

AdamYuret
AdamYuret

@CatSwetel In this one decision I see no tyranny. And I don't think you can fix culture with remote relationships. Just my bias.

LaMarEstaba
LaMarEstaba

@sandifjm Right. She has no interest in being a feminist because she has lived in a world that has already been changed to accommodate her. If she hadn't had others before her, she would have never ended up getting a Master's at Stanford in AI. That's completely true. And we live in a world now where women and minorities nominally have the same rights as everyone else, so we aren't heretics or "out there." Is there still progress to be made? Indubitably. But she has no interest in being a feminist poster girl.

PoliahuCDA
PoliahuCDA

@sashaboersma @untoldent This is the same woman who "skipped" her maternity leave. Interesting approach to HR.

AmandaDineGambl
AmandaDineGambl

@sashaboersma @UntoldEnt Well, that makes sense. Nothing gets people to think outside the box like telling them, "Get back inside the box!"

AdamYuret
AdamYuret

@CatSwetel it is, but at some level, especially during an org rescue, someone must make decisions. It sucks but I'm not sure it's avoidable.

CatSwetel
CatSwetel

@AdamYuret i guess i just think it is stupid to think you know the perfect approach to work for every employee.

PoliahuCDA
PoliahuCDA

@LaurindaShaver @UntoldEnt @sashaboersma It's like sleep: it's for amateurs.

LaurindaShaver
LaurindaShaver

@UntoldEnt @poliahucda @sashaboersma So that is where I'm NOT going wrong. Sheesh. What ever happened to living life (which incls work)

sashaboersma
sashaboersma

@untoldent @PoliahuCDA lol! cereal in mouth almost ended up all over laptop upon reading that tweet...

PoliahuCDA
PoliahuCDA

@UntoldEnt @sashaboersma Yes, that's the spirit!

UntoldEnt
UntoldEnt

@PoliahuCDA @sashaboersma If you can't run a business with your new baby hanging by the umbilical from your womb, get out of the work world.

sashaboersma
sashaboersma

@AmandaDineGambl @untoldent couldn't agree more! :)