Didn’t she almost have it all
It’s not fair that Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is expected to become the poster girl for working mothers the world over. Even if it was a gig she wanted, where would she find the time?
In between the exhaustive hours that running a Fortune 500 company demands, raising her five-month-old son and squeezing in the occasional dinner with her husband, there’s not much free time in the 37-year-old’s schedule.
And even if there was, it’s probably a stray hour or two she would prefer to spend getting reacquainted with sleep rather than stage a protest rally to lobby for better conditions in the workplace.
Fair enough. As the youngest-ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company, not to mention the first to give birth while in the role, Mayer’s reluctance to be drawn into conversation about the uniqueness of her position is understandable.
“You have to ruthlessly prioritise,” was her response when recently quizzed on US television about how she balances work and family commitments. “And I do. And that’s one of the reasons that I haven’t been talking - and I’m going to go back to not talking.”
Even when her admission last year that she only planned to take two weeks maternity leave after the birth of her first child sparked furious debate in offices across the globe, Mayer refused to weigh into the controversy.
She might have become the unofficial spokesperson for corporate women, but it was never an honour she courted. Work hard, get the job done and keep quiet about everything else is clearly her philosophy.
But choosing to remain silent about her own choices is one thing. Taking steps to minimise the choices of her fellow working parents is quite another.
And in stripping employees of the flexible arrangements they currently enjoy, Mayer has done just that.
Following the issuing of a memo which claimed “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”, her company has warned staff who telecommute they have until June to move into the office on a full-time basis.
And for those who are unable to do so – primarily mothers who work from home – then their days with the company are numbered. End of conversation.
Not exactly the enlightened attitude many were expecting from a relatively young woman with first-hand experience in the modern headache that is juggling career and children.
The abrupt termination of the previously enjoyed right to work from home has caused much consternation, with industry observers puzzled by what is seen as a needlessly punitive measure.
It is also counterproductive to the goal of reversing Yahoo!’s flagging fortunes, with highly sought after employees now expected to become vulnerable to recruiting advances from rival companies savvy enough to swoop in.
But perhaps most damning of all, Mayer found a kindred spirit in Donald “The President is a Foreigner” Trump who took to Twitter to defend the crackdown.
You know you’re on the wrong side of an argument when he of the toupee is your only ally.
And on this point Mayer is most definitely wrong. In an era when technology has made working from home a more practical option than ever, the imposition of a one-size-fits-all policy is both ill-timed and unwarranted.
Not every job lends itself to telecommuting, and in most workplaces spending at least part of the week on site is beneficial.
To some the concept of working from home might lead to reduced productivity and increased consumption of daytime TV – just as to others clocking in at the office can translate to whiling away the hours on social media.
From the perspective of an attentive boss it’s not hard to determine if an employee is fulfilling their professional requirements, irrespective of where they happen to be physically based.
But more than being fundamentally flawed, Mayer’s regressive edict is disappointing in that it suggests that – like the characters in Animal Farm who become indistinguishable from their oppressive predecessors – she has no intention of ushering in a new era.
Rather than acknowledge that working parents – both men and women – are increasingly searching for more flexible workplace policies, Mayer appears determined to move in the opposite direction.
Coming from an ageing executive whose beliefs were formed during a pre-smartphone era, the revoking of working-from-home privileges would be a short-sighted yet predictable outcome.
That it comes from a new mother in her thirties is far more surprising – and disturbing.
Mayer cannot, and should not, be forced to be the pin-up girl for every working mother. But there’s no denying her high profile and position has afforded her a certain power – and setting about making life more difficult for fellow parents is not the wisest way to use it.
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