Sunday, February 24, 2013

Marissa Mayer: Former Feminist Icon

Feminists were positively giddy when Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo. You see, Mayer was 7 months pregnant at the time and was about to become the world’s first working-mother-of-an-infant CEO.

As you know, feminist dreams of combining motherhood with career advancement depend, to some part, on flex time and telecommuting. (It was part of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s vision of a brave new gender-neutered world.) In the dreamworld, a mother who works from home and defines her own schedule can have a successful career and be a parent at the same time.

Naturally, the media has been awash with studies showing that flex time and telecommuting are the wave of the future and that employees who avail themselves of these options are happier, healthier and more productive.

Or, so it seemed, until a couple of weeks ago when Marissa Mayer sent shock waves through the matriarchy. Then Yahoo's HR department sent out a memo decreeing that beginning in June Yahoo workers will be required to show up, to be present, to be in their offices and to interact with their colleagues.


Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun.

With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Why would anyone be shocked to see a CEO making decisions as a CEO, not as a feminist revolutionary? Marissa Mayer works for the Yahoo shareholders; she is charged with keeping her company profitable so that its employees will continue to have jobs. Only in the twisted minds of ideological zealots is such behavior unacceptable.

Speaking for movement feminists Lisa Belkin was outraged:

I had hope for Marissa Mayer. I'd thought that while she was breaking some barriers -- becoming theyoungest woman CEO ever lead a Fortune 500 company, and certainly the first to do it while pregnant -- she might take on the challenge of breaking a number of others. That she'd use her platform and her power to make Yahoo! an example of a modern family-friendly workplace. That she would embrace the thinking that new tools and technology deserve an equally new approach to where and how employees are allowed to work.

Instead she began by announcing that she would take just a two week maternity leave, which might have been all she needed, but which sent the message that this kind of macho-never-slowed-down-by-the-pesky-realities-of-life-outside-the-office was expected of everyone.

And now there's this. Rather than championing a blending of life and work , she is calling for an enforced and antiquated division. She is telling workers -- many of whom were hired with the assurance that they could work remotely -- that they'd best get their bottoms into their office chairs, or else.

Belkin is showing us that the blather over work/life balance is really about advancing an ideology at the expense of both work and family.

Kudos to Marissa Mayer. She has shown us that being an effective CEO means doing what is best for the company, even when it discomforts the ideologues among us. 


n.n said...

Sometimes the suburban model works, while other times the urban model works. There is a reasonable way to compare and assess the value of distributed and centralized systems.

As for rejecting the telecommuting model, that is simple. We are social creatures. Our creativity and intelligence are associative processes. Even the genius does not develop in isolation. There is also a time debt which accrues with isolation. However, when integrated for extended periods, we experience input saturation. There is a probabilistic model which describes an optimal balance.

This latest "epiphany" reminds me of the male vs female paradox. Men want to be men. Women want to be women. Some men want to be women. Some women want to be men. Many people act unreasonably and without reason. There has been an effort to normalize confusion for profit.

That said, the telecommuting, and, generally, flexible work option, is inherently discriminatory. Many, if not most, jobs cannot be virtually processed. It's a wonder the advocates for this model were ever able to offer an internally consistent argument to defend their positions. This doesn't mean it cannot be an option, but it certainly cannot be universal in time and space.

This reminds me of the advocates who support civil and human rights while simultaneously supporting affirmative action and elective abortion; who oppose slavery but support redistributive and retributive change; who are environmental activists but support "green" technology; who are liberal but exploit the collective; who embrace evolution but reject its principles; etc.

Is cognitive dissonance a diagnosed mental disorder? Is its therapy directed by a selective treatment of reality?

David Foster said...

I disagree on this one. True that interaction is important, but interaction with who, how, and where?

A field sales person is going to spend much of his time interacting with customers or prospects. Interaction within the company is required as well...but that interaction may be largely with a product manager 500 miles away and with a pricing team 1000 miles away in the other direction.

The product manager may need to interact with the software engineers and the product marketing people...who may be in still different well as with the sales reps who are all over the place.

I'm not a Yahoo shareholder and haven't done business with them (except as a mail user) so don't know their geographical pattern...but most companies that have been around awhile have people scattered all over hell's half acre. Especially if they've done a lot of acquisitions. Wandering the halls and meeting at random in the cafeteria is great IF the people you need to meet are actually in the same building.

I also disagree with doing things like this as an overall corporate edict. Does Marissa not have enough confidence in her executives to let them make their own decisions about things like this in their specific cases, after discussion of the pros and cons? If not, why doesn't she get rid of them and then hire some people that she *does* trust enough to give them reasonable managerial autonomy>

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I certainly see your point, but since MM was clearly addressing a problem, perhaps a problem at corporate HQ, I'd like to know what it was before deciding whether it was or was not the best.

Modern corporations often have different hubs where people do congregate and develop an esprit de corps... if the Yahoo HQ looked or felt deserted most of the time, then perhaps she was trying to bring it back to life.

David Foster said...

Stuart, she clearly isn't speaking only of Corporate HQ; she mentions multiple offices in the memo.

Reports are that there are a lot of employees who have become disconnected and no one knows exactly what they're working on. To me that clearly points to a problem with their management chain: there is no excuse for not knowing what your employees are doing, regardless of where they're located.

There is a real issue of management credibility and autonomy here. Say one of Marissa's executives...say for example the one responsible for Marketing Communications had hired a talented graphic designer and a great PR person with the understanding they could work from home most days when travel wasn't required (as it likely often would be for the PR individual)....and Marissa issued her edict overruling that....then that executive is going to feel pretty disempowered and is likely to be highly pissed.

Anonymous said...

I am a VP of a 100 person tech organization and work from home - the corporate HQ is overseas - but I have no problems doing my job growing revenue, managing my overseas team on three conitnents, and communicating with my co-executives using the variety of high tech tools available today.

This move is shortsighted, insular, and stupid, especially from a woman who is documented as taking "milking breaks" throughout the day .

I never had much respect for Yahoo, and even less now. You might think this move of some back-ass bubba, not a tech leader, which clearly she is not.

rhhardin said...

Mayer showed herself as uptight and humorless when she worked at Google, in an interview with Armstrong and Getty (11/4/2009, first hour).

It was a high degree of cluelessness in human interaction.

That's all I know about her, but it was plain to see.

I wouldn't be surprised at anything she did.

David Foster said...

Thoughts on this issue from Rita King, with a discussion thread:

I would observe that if a Yahoo manager is not able to properly manage the activity of a remote employee, then (s)he will also likely not be able to properly manage the activity of a contractor, supplier, or partner company.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you all for the feedback. Another post on the topic to follow.

Teri said...

I do tech support for an Internet service provider. It's an hour and a half commute for me to drive to the office. When I get there, I am at my desk, headphones on, and typically don't get to talk to my coworkers at all.

I have been telecommuting for a year and a half now. Last year, I went to the office twice. This is the only way that I can continue to work for this company and they know that. I don't make enough to afford $4 a gallon gas. And, I came very close to getting into a bad crash one winter due to road conditions.

I'd say that the Yahoo CEO is being short sighted. Some jobs need that personal interaction, some don't. I probably won't move up in this company the way I would if I were in the office every day. Then, again, there aren't a lot of positions to move up into in this company. The company gets my experience and expertise. I get to continue working for a great company. I'm glad the owner gave me the opportunity to do this.

Sam L. said...

So, golly gee whiz, it depends! Do I know what she's dealing with? No.
Does Lisa Belkin? I'm guessing not--and...Lisa is not in charge, and not responsible to the owners.