Marissa Mayer: Feminist Failure?

By Karen Hendricks

Photo Credit: Peter Kramer, Associated Press

Photo Credit: Peter Kramer, Associated Press

My head is spinning from the Marissa Mayer news coverage this week. To those moms who don’t have time to follow the news, I apologize. I’m a news junkie. But I know there are days when it’s hard enough to remember what month it is, let alone find the time to keep up with daily current events. However, in this case you really ought to know what’s going on because there’s a ripple effect touching women everywhere.

So here’s the play-by-play:

  • Marissa Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo who made headlines for announcing her pregnancy the same day she was appointed as CEO in July 2012. (A new female icon is born!)
  • A long-time Google executive, Mayer created anticipation and excitement at Yahoo! Could she turn around the struggling company? (A female CEO who is not only smart-as-a-whip but beautiful and pregnant… awesome!)
  • Leading up to the birth of her son on September 30, Mayer said she would take as little maternity time as possible, only two weeks. (Hmmm… Superwoman? She’ll change her tune once she gives birth!)
  • But return to work in two weeks, she did, with a nursery installed next door to her office for her son, to boot. (Very cool, however this is not something the average working mom can relate to… <understatement>)
  • Then the mother firework of all ear-popping, sky-blasting pyrotechnics: A week ago today, a memo circulated at Yahoo, ordering all employees who worked from home to either quit or begin working in the office full-time by June. (Hello? Does Mayer not understand feminist loyalty and her leadership role as a female CEO?)

There are a multitude of angles to this story, and I’ve compiled a bunch of them from this week’s tops news coverage:

Is Mayer out of touch?

“Many women were appalled at the Yahoo news, noting that Mayer, with her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons, her Oscar de la Rentas and her $117 million five-year contract, seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life,” writes News York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd. She continues, “The dictatorial decree to work ‘side by side’ had some dubbing Mayer not ‘the Steinem of Silicon Valley’ but ‘the Stalin of Silicon Valley.’”

Is Mayer courageous?

Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson quotes a source familiar with the situation at Yahoo as saying, “Yahoo has a huge number of people of who work remotely – people who just never come in.  Many of these people ‘weren’t productive.’… Mayer saw another side-benefit to making this move. She knows that some remote workers won’t want to start coming into the office and so they will quit. That helps Yahoo, which needs to cut costs. It’s a layoff that’s not a layoff… ‘She’s turned out to have a lot of courage. She’s dealing with problems no one wanted to deal with before (according to the source).’”

Off with her head!

“But there really isn’t anything more annoying than an extraordinarily lucky genius with movie star looks and a $127 million contract acting as if what’s easy for her should be easy for everybody else,” writes Margery Eagen in the Boston Herald. She continues, “She’s a mega-celebrity, superstar CEO with a tin ear and a preachy mouth. In a few short months, she’s gone from 21st cent­ury role model to Marie Antoinette.”

Would it have been different coming from a male CEO?

Sheelah Kohlhatkar of Bloomberg Businessweek summarizes, “No one knows whether the decision to require all Yahoo employees to work in an office will prove to be positive or negative for the company; it may be personally disastrous for some of the individuals affected and the best thing that ever happened to others. But if one of the hundreds of men running American companies had made a similar move, it’s unlikely that anyone would have even noticed.”

O, the irony!

Similarly, The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus writes, “How ironic that a technology company, dedicated to enabling connectivity, would enforce such a retrograde, back-to-the-assembly-line edict. It reflect a bricks-and-mortar mindset in an increasingly cyber world. How depressing that this edict comes from a female CEO, albeit a seemingly bionic one. You have to wonder whether this is Mayer demonstrating that she is as tough — or as boneheaded — as any guy.”

A step backwards despite advances in technology?

Gender issues aside, Max Nisen of Business Insider also mentions the growing trend of telecommuting: “What’s pretty clear from details that have emerged is that Yahoo did an exceptionally bad job at managing its remote workers. People who worked from home were apparently unproductive and so disconnected from the company that people forgot that they worked at Yahoo at all… But rather than try to deal with those issues, Yahoo’s chosen just to end remote work completely. That’s understandable. Mayer’s trying to clean house and completely change a company that’s had several CEOs in quick succession. But she may have created a long-term problem. Advances in technology, changes in preferences, and an increasingly globalized workforce mean that the trend towards remote workers and fewer offices will only grow in the future.”

Ok – your turn… What do you think? Was Mayer’s announcement a good business decision? Is she insulting women with her actions? Did she do long-term damage to those who telecommute? Ultimately, is she a role model?

6 thoughts on “Marissa Mayer: Feminist Failure?

  1. I’m interested in seeing how this ultimately shakes out. It is great working from home and the technology at our fingertips is amazing. I have the good fortune to be close to my employer yet have the opportunity to work from home, especially when my boys are here or when I really need the quiet to focus and write.

    However, there are benefits to working on site. Brainstorming and problem-solving are more productive face-to-face. I think more can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time…and misunderstandings are fewer…when everyone works together. Consider a recent in-person conversation or business meeting. Now think about how long it might have taken if done via email or instant messaging. Personally, I can talk faster than I can type.

    My husband brought up a good point about a discussion with a co-worker in management. During a teleconference, while listening to the speaker, everyone in the room was busy on their electronic devices. Multitasking isn’t productive. How might the scene look if the speaker was in the room with everyone?

    Seems like balance is needed. Sure, workers can be highly productive when working from home, especially if a family situation calls for it, but what’s missing if people rarely get together to discover, collaborate and communicate?

    Maybe the real problem with Marissa Mayer is her communication skills? Is it better to simply lay down the law or to offer more explanation and collaboration? Maybe she’s tired of trying to manage a major corporation by talking into a speakerphone, knowing a room full of people on the other end is doing everything but working with her…

  2. Great points, Jen. She’s sending a strong message that she’s up to the task of whipping this company back into shape. If there are slackers allegedly working from home, then she’s basically laying down the law and hauling their butts back into the office. Should she have tempered that message? Maybe, but would it have had the same effect?

    The firestorm has come as a result of the message, on top of the context – first female Fortune 500 CEO to juggle pregnancy with the job. Does she owe it to us women to support telecommuting as an option?

    You are 100% right about physically being with coworkers in order for effective collaborations to occur. But studies show productivity is higher when workers are home (except perhaps for Yahoo’s employees!). I think the ideal situation is to allow flex time for workers to telecommute certain days and be present in the office other days. The key is good communication flowing from the office and filtering down to employees who are telecommuting to keep them in the loop.

    I agree – it’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out… stay tuned!

  3. I’ve been following it and I think it’s very interesting. In today’s world world this may finally be a groundbreaking business decision. She’s the boss and it was most likely a very tough and thought out decision with pros and cons to both sides. There are just too many variables for anyone outside to consider…still a powerful move.

  4. She may have a good idea, requiring female workers to either quit or work in the office as opposed to working at home. But, I wonder, since she has an available nursery next to her office, if she would make a nursery with care givers, available for those women who would choose to bring their children to work, also?

  5. She is a new mom, perphaps she does not realize all that goes with the parenting responsibility, like some of us that are years into it….. she may not have enough “life” experience to have “empathy” for others, e.g. women & a mother’s daily routine of life, she also has a lot of money to do as she pleases……puts life in a different perspective. It seems the ones who suffer in life understand others better, but who knows what her path has been so far.

    My current employer only allows for “1” day a week of telecommuting, the ones that try for that 3 day weekend get noticed, our company rule is to telecommute Tuesday, Wedsnesday or a Thursday, just 1 of those days. Most follow it and they do actually get work done from home. Companies need strong HR departments to enforce some of the rules made by the executives, we would have to know the details of the employees that perhaps are not following the rules, if they have any rules around their telecommuting policy.

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