Dear Marissa Mayer, I'm glad I'm not a Yahoo!

Marissa, I want to champion you, I really do. At 37, and one of only 19 female CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, I want you to succeed. Taking the reigns as CEO of Yahoo while 6 months pregnant, I was hoping you would blaze trails for working moms everywhere. But first came the stingy two week maternity leave, then the declaration that the whole baby thing was easy, and now this...turning back the clock on workplace flexibility by banning your employees to work from home. I hate to think what's next.

The truth is, if I worked for Marissa Mayer I would most likely have to leave my job. I've said previously that the most important reason I am still successfully advancing in my career with young children is flexibility (a supportive spouse and nearby grandparents are close seconds). I am fortunate that I can read academic journals, write grants, review papers, prepare class lectures and draft emails all from home. I also have leadership responsibilities to my research lab and other organizations on campus that require my presence on a regular basis - so I couldn't do my job from home full time and I wouldn't want to. I know I am fortunate that I can make the choice to work from home when I need to and this autonomy contributes in large part to my career satisfaction. There are jobs and industries where face time is crucial, I know. But in a two-career household that includes children, flexibility to work from home on occasion is key.

For those of us that don't have $117 million five-year contracts, flexible work hours are crucial to keeping all the balls in the air. Because someone still has to meet with teachers, take kids for regular physician check-ups and to the dentist. There are pancake breakfasts, school birthday parties, field trips, recitals and games to attend. (And sick days. Don't forget the sick days!) These obligations still typically fall to mom, whether working or not. While it isn't always easy, these are obligations I cannot avoid. And perhaps more importantly, these are aspects of my children's lives that I don't want to miss. On days when doctor appointments or school events are scheduled, I can maximize my time if I work from home, eliminating my commute and any unplanned distractions in the office.

As Anne-Marie Slaughter discussed in her piece in the Atlantic last summer, corporations need to go further in accommodating working parents, not backwards as companies like Yahoo and Bank of America are doing. As Slaughter extolls, the notion that face time in the office is a marker of productivity is long past. And, eliminating flexibility from the workplace affects women and men. Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost as many men telecommute as women. Working fathers today seek a greater balance between work and home. And while men are still loathe to take advantage of policies like paternity leave even when it is available to them, flex time is something men are eager to have. Even in a traditional, male-dominated law firm like my husband works for, he has the autonomy and flexibility to work from home when I absolutely cannot.  

I get it Marissa - you have a big ship to right in your new gig as top Yahoo. I know you have to make drastic moves and establish your leadership style. But can't you prove yourself and your ability to lead without setting back working families in the process? No, you didn't ask to be the poster girl for working moms. But must you separate yourself from that role to the extent that you work against us? I find it hard to believe that you will never work from home yourself. Do you not want others to have the same career-life happiness I'm sure you wish for yourself? Without hired help and the option to build a nursery next to our offices at work (really? I'm not sure I would want that luxury even if it was an option), working parents in the 99% need flexible work schedules to have at least a crack at work-life balance.

In the past year, there has been a lot of attention given to this idea of women having it all, and a national conversation on women and work is a positive step in the right direction. Marissa, I understand if you don't have the time or inclination to join the conversation, but I wish you would. 
 
 
From the home office...

Comments

  1. Very tough, I agree with you 100%, but the men watching her are cheering saying, way to be tough. But, truthfully she is only being weak, by conforming and not paving new roads. She has the most amazing chance to make the decisions for her employees, where many woman, have to ask for things and hope they get granted when it comes to children.
    Geez if you are going to build a nursery by your office, why not build a daycare for everyone to use?!
    It is even crazier since the internet and computer industry prides itself in flexibility and the joy of being able to work at home. I could see other indusrties(for example my own in construction) where there is just no option on not being present. I don't see how this will fly in her company....

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    1. Julie - I know many men (and some women) think its great that she made this tough decision. And a good leader has to make unpopular decisions, for sure. But I agree with you that it is disappointing and if she really is all that(!) - she could have come up with something groundbreaking and original to turn the company around - that does not also hurt working families. Some will say that is not her role - she only has an obligation to the company and the bottom line. Perhaps they are right, but I still find it disappointing.

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  2. Thoughtful and well written. It's a sad truth that women have to choose between work and family all too often. Consequently, we (or maybe just me) feel like both areas suffer. Marissa should be ashamed of herself, but likely doesn't care about the happiness of her employees; male or female. She, with the majority of America's CEOs care more about the almighty dollar. I like to think that in spite of her 'reform', her home life will never be as rich and warm and wonderful as C and I and H's...

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    1. You are not the only one that feels like both areas suffer - I feel that every day! And there ought to be other choices besides staying and being miserable and opting out. I'm really curious to see what AMS has to say on the subject. Stay tuned!

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  3. BRAVO!

    I knew you would tackle this one with intelligence and exactly the right words. While I agree that Mayer didn't directly ask to be the poster child for working mothers I do think she, in some ways, gives her consent by continuing to talk about how easy it is.

    I saw a quote the other day that essentially said, "Women will never acheieve work/life balance until we're talking about it in the same terms for men as we do for women." That struck a chord for me. Perhaps she's just better at delegating than I will ever be?

    In any event, you said it all well and you got Anne Marie Slaughter's attention. SHE READ YOUR POST ABOUT HER STORY. Awesome.

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    1. Susan - I like this! I think if we make the conversation more and more about families (including men, not just women) we will make a lot more progress. Men want more time with their families, and frankly, for women to keep advancing in their careers, the load has to be shared closer to 50-50.

      Maybe Marissa shouldn't be singled out for what are truly business decisions. But I don't think it is fair that she can accomodate her own family needs (with a nursery at work) and not make efforts to enhance the work/family lives of her employees. Obviously she can do it, and life isn't always fair, but it isn't good leadership in my opinion.

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  4. Paige, I really enjoy your blogs and appreciate the intelligent, authentic perspective you provide. For myself, I think Melissa made a very difficult decision, and I honestly have to respect her for it (though as CEO, hard decisions are a big part of what she’s paid – quite well – to do). The jury is out as to the impact, but from where I sit she does not have a lot of choice. She doesn’t seem like a half-way person, or one who wants to fail. She took on a failing company in the most competitive, fast-moving industry in the world – tech – and she has a limited amount of time to turn it around. The reality of software development is it is much more social and collaborative than most people realize. Having spent at least 3 of the last 7 work days at home, trying to collaborate via video chat, phone conference, and other ‘virtual’ tools, the net of the experience is it’s a lot better than it used to be, but still nothing like ‘being there’. I am a huge believer in culture, and I suspect she believes a culture change is part of what’s required to reenter the game. That will be much easier to do with people present, and she’s given them the choice to opt in or out. No doubt they will lose some great talent, but I imagine she and her team are working feverishly on plans that recognize that and may redefine what and where ‘in the office’ is to accommodate. In my experience, the pendulum usually swings pretty far in the opposite direction and then settles somewhere nearer the middle. You also talked about some of her other choices, and the need for role models. In my working mom journey, I agree with much of Anne Marie Slaughter’s observations… we cannot have it all, at least not all at once. Make no mistake, she has and is giving things up and likely knows it even if she doesn’t talk about it publicly (though I don’t follow her that much). I have twice pulled off my career highway for ‘rest stops’ to reprioritize and regain some balance. Even when working, I have focused on finding assignments that kept me challenged and growing, but allowed me some of the flexibility that you enjoy and that I found was essential for my family. It has not come without costs, on either side, but I have made my peace with those sacrifices. On balance I love what I do – both at home and at work – and I love who I do it with. It is a high-class problem to have so many choices, and I do not take it lightly – as I know you don’t either. Thanks for keeping the dialogue going.

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    1. I really appreciate this perspective. And I totally agree with you in that I know she has to made tough choices and it is a bottom line decision. Perhaps it is the best decision for her company right now and that is her priority. I also know she can't be responsible for all work-family issues the world over, but I worry about the precedent it sets. If a tech company can't work remotely, that doesn't bode well for other fields.

      I think it is very tough to make the decisions you've made for your career over the years. It is really hard to opt back in - you've done it very well, but it isn't the norm. I see so many young women opting out before they even get to positions with autonomy/flexibility because they don't see themselves being able to manage both family and work. Thanks for replying - really love hearing your thoughts!

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