This week, Marissa Mayer has been turning heads with her bold moves. To start, she revoked the organization’s work-from-home policy and mandated that all employees return to the office. The move frustrated those directly impacted and left the rest of Yahoo’s staff feeling uneasy. Many speculate that this was an attempt to reduce the headcount without announcing layoffs. Nowadays, many companies – particularly startups – are moving towards a work-from-home model to help streamline operations and increase productivity. When a leader like Mayer voices their opinion that “face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture,” the business world has begun to contemplate whether this will become commonplace at other companies too.
Working remotely has become a much-discussed topic in today’s world of total connectivity, inciting an argument between those who prefer to work from home and those who choose the office. Gone are the days when you could not remain connected to important work details while away from the office. Now, with platforms like Skype and Google Hangouts along with advances in technology such as smartphones, it is possible to communicate effectively and efficiently with colleagues no matter where you are located. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 24 percent of employed Americans now work from home some or all days in the week, a figure which is continuously rising – 63 percent of employers allowed employees to be remote last year, up from 34 percent since 2005.
In a joint survey by 85 Broads and Microsoft, results indicated that remote working is commonplace among members of the organization who, on average, work remotely half the week. Moreover, nearly all participants expressed their preference for having regular remote working hours. Surprisingly, only 9% of people would prefer to work remotely every day; however, the average number of days individuals would choose to do so is 3.1! According to a 2010 report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, flexible work arrangements not only reduce absenteeism and company turnover–ultimately lead to improved productivity. It’s significant to note that six of Forbes’ most successful female leaders worked for companies ranked as the best workplaces for working moms by Working Mother.
While working remotely has several benefits, there are still certain in-person connections and conversations that cannot be replaced. Those who spend their days together in an office gain a deeper understanding of each other’s work processes, building relationships and fostering collaboration more effectively than any online meeting could provide. The New York Times has reported that numerous tech companies, such as Google (where Mayer was the twentieth employee), subscribe to the belief that innovation is more likely to occur in an office setting.
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” In a conversation with The New York Times, Yahoo’s Director of Human Resources Jackie Reses imparted her wisdom. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
This week, Mayer made another momentous work-related move – she commenced construction of a nursery adjacent to her office for her four-month-old son. Despite the backlash, I believe this is more due to its dramatic nature as it follows the immediate telecommuting ban.
Contrastingly, Mayer is requiring her workers to stay on-site despite the presence of their youngsters; however, she takes advantage of a benefit that allows her to take care of hers in an office setting. Her employees are not receiving any type of flexibility yet she does – and this discrepancy is most certainly noticeable.
“The irony is that she has broken the glass ceiling, but seems unwilling for other women to lead a balanced life in which they care for their families and still concentrate on developing their skills and career,” Ruth Rosen, a professor emerita of women’s history at the University of California, expressed to The New York Times.
Since she took the reigns as Yahoo’s CEO in July, Mayer has encountered constant public scrutiny. Her pregnancy announcement came just one day after her position was made official, stirring up a media storm that followed her throughout the months ahead. Mayer’s widely debated two-week maternity leave has drawn the ire of countless women, as it sets a virtually unattainable standard for those who lack her financial means. It’s been suggested that her decision may have set us back ten years; she could have made a statement, being the first 37-year-old woman to manage a Fortune 500 company and take five months off for maternity leave.
“We all applaud her, but she’s superhuman, rich, and in charge,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and acclaimed author of the renowned Atlantic article, answered. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” When Mayer announced that having a baby was easier than she expected, the response was not at all positive.
I believe that Mayer should not be criticized for setting up a nursery at work. She is making it clear to everyone that she plans on bringing her baby with her to the office and balancing motherhood and career simultaneously.
The esteemed Bonnie Fuller, President, and Editor in Chief of Hollywood.com declared: “Now, her office nursery is her solution to being on top and having a family at the same time. If Marissa were a man who wanted to be a deeply involved father to his newborn and built a nursery next to his office, wouldn’t people–especially women–be swooning over his commitment to fatherhood? Would he be pilloried for having an unfair advantage over other workers, because he was a wealthy CEO and in a power position? I doubt it!”
It’s true. Mayer often gets criticized for her superhuman abilities (at a discussion I once attended at the 92Y in which she spoke, it was proposed that there are 130 usable hours in a week if you shower correctly), yet no man would be given much attention to any of these topics. Even though Marissa Mayer has much more access to resources than other women, she is still being criticized for her ambition. Rather than begrudgingly tearing down such a successful female leader, shouldn’t we applaud her tenacity and determination in achieving both career success and personal fulfillment?
Amanda Steinberg, the CEO, and founder of DailyWorth composed a piece that offers advice to female directors on how they can provide more flexibility for their employees. “The ‘you’re hurting working moms’ backlash allows employees hiding in the wings to turn you into the bad cop,” she writes. “Don’t let them. Keep kicking ass as a CEO mom and do what you have to do to make Yahoo! great again.”
We are fortunate to have Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer leading the dialogue around important topics, allowing us to initiate critical conversations.
We want to hear what you think of Mayer’s new policy and the work-life balance battle for women. Share your opinion in the comments section below!