Marissa Mayer: CEO or Woman First?

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo–and mother to a four-month-old son–is coming under fire for having ordered that employees working at home must start working in the office or, presumably, be fired.

“Hypocrisy!” shriek her critics, based on the fact that Mayer built (at her own expense) a nursery near her Yahoo office in order to be closer to her son. Others are enraged at the irony of a working mother instituting measures that will make the lives of other working mothers more difficult.

But as the facts attest, Mayer resorted to ending the work-at-home option only when other, less draconian measures failed to obtain the results she wanted–namely, a closer, harder-working workforce engaged collaboratively with one another. By terminating the work-at-home option, she has chosen to act primarily as a CEO rather than as a woman, or a mother.

Kudos to her for it. When did certain segments of the population began to think that a company exists first and foremost for the fulfillment and ease of its employees rather than for the benefit of the consumer and the profits of the company itself (which translate into gains for its shareholders)?

Of course, if it is possible to institute a workplace culture that facilitates work-life balance, that’s all to the good–and responsible employers are in the wrong if they fail to implement easy, common sense measures that improve their workers’ lives. But in situations like the one at Yahoo, where employee preferences conflict with what a company’s leader determines to be in the best interest of the company, the leader’s responsibility must be to the organization he or she has been chosen to lead. The sex of the leader should be irrelevant to the determination.

Critics should lay off Marissa Mayer, who sounds like an extremely talented, hard-working woman who’s doing her best to excel in her (relatively) new post. Were she to subjugate Yahoo’s needs to her own agenda as a working mother–or if she failed to take needed measures just to prove she was “nice”–she would do a profound disservice to all the other women striving to reach the top because of their abilities, not their gender.

  1. SunnyOptimism

    I’m going to push back on the author here.  I am a work-from-home Dad and I work for a Fortune 100 tech company that also allows employees to work from home if their job descriptions allow for it.  I can tell you from FACT, that I work longer and harder than my office-based colleagues as I am “always-on” … online that is.  I work early in the morning so that I can sync up with my East Coast colleagues and I can, when needed, work late into the evenings.

    Corporations that allow workers to work from home not only get a huge productivity boost from those employees, they incur less costs by not having to provide expensive commercial office space (in my company, a shared office mod cost $500 per month, per employee to operate) and have happier employees.

    It’s not about being “entitled” to work from home, it’s about providing work-life balance to your employees making them happier, more productive and less likely to quite (expensive).

    Yahoo! already has a talent drain, this short-sighted move by Ms. Mayer will only make it worse.

  2. Pseudodionysius

    It’s not about being “entitled” to work from home, it’s about providing work-life balance to your employees making them happier, more productive and less likely to quite (expensive).

    From everything I’ve read the culture at Yahoo was completely broken, its policy was not typical among tech companies in its class and being widely abused. I suspect that once the ship has been turned around and the culture shock has worn off, some variant will return. 

  3. Instugator

    Seriously? The entirety of Yahoo’s problems can be laid at the feet “of a closer, harder-working workforce engaged collaboratively with one another.” – and such “collaboration” can only be achieved via physical proximity?

    Hmmm, how 20th century of her. I would submit that Yahoo’s lackluster performance is their failure to innovate to retain users (my Yahoo account preceeds my Google account by almost 1/2 a decade – yet Yahoo lost me in the early 2000′s when GMail offered better service.)

    Physical proximity – who knew.

  4. Oranjeman
    Were she to subjugate Yahoo’s needs to her own agenda as a working mother — or if she failed to take needed measures just to prove she was “nice” — she would do a profound disserve to all the other women striving to reach the top because of their abilities, not their gender. · · 51 minutes ago

    And, presumably, a disservice to Yahoo itself.  Otherwise, you end up with a health-care provider, like GM, that just happens to make cars … really good cars … great cars.  

     

  5. david foster

    If Yahoo managers aren’t able to properly manage remote employees, then how can they manage contractors, suppliers, and business partners?

    If the objective is to get some employees to quit and thereby reduce costs…as several articles about this have suggested…then doesn’t Marissa know that it is generally the ones that you DON’T want to quit who do…and the ones you DO want to quit who actually stay? I thought everyone with management experience knew this.

  6. SunnyOptimism
    Pseudodionysius

    It’s not about being “entitled” to work from home, it’s about providing work-life balance to your employees making them happier, more productive and less likely to quite (expensive).

    From everything I’ve read the culture at Yahoo was completely broken, its policy was not typical among tech companies in its class and being widely abused. I suspect that once the ship has been turned around and the culture shock has worn off, some variant will return.  · 16 minutes ago

    Sounds to me like Ms Mayer is taking the bazooka approach to the problem.  It’s obviously her ship to captain (and sink) but I work in a tech company (a big one) and Yahoo is in a class of companies that do remote employees all the time.  She’s going to get a huge rebellion on this and I suspect she’ll be hearing from her middle managers about the brain drain accelerating.  She chose to go full-nuclear on this so I have no sympathies for falling stock prices at Yahoo!

  7. Locke On

    Yahoo has been in trouble with both its business model and management culture for years.  Same old, same old.

  8. EThompson

    Kudos to her, indeed. As who one worked in a corporate environment for years, I can attest to the critical role person-to-person comradery does play in building a successful culture, one that (gasp!) cannot be achieved over the internet.

    Furthermore, I have listened to numerous complaints from fellow employees who are often asked to take on the additional responsibilities that need to be addressed a/o and on site.

    Very timely, relevant post.

  9. Robert Promm

    We have just reiterated our company policy that employees must be in the office at least 4 days of the days Monday through Friday and that they must be here at least 8 hours between 0700 and 1900.  

    We did it for the very same reasons that Mayer did.

  10. das_motorhead
    SunnyOptimism

     She chose to go full-nuclear on this so I have no sympathies for falling stock prices at Yahoo! 

    Time will tell, but stock prices are up by ~30% since she took over. And up on the day, as well, for what little that’s worth.

  11. david foster

    I think it’s a mistake to position this as a feminists-and-squishy-liberals versus real-hard-nosed-businesspeople issue. Few have accused me of being excessively warm & cuddly in treatment of employees (I believe the phrase “ruthless SOB” may have been used occasionally), but I think there is a definite place for remote workers in most organization.

    In real life, the people someone needs to collaborate with in an organization will often not be in the same building or even the same city. This is particularly true if the company has done multiple acquisitions. A product marketing manager, for example, may need to interact with a product development manager in City A (not his own), a marketing communications manager in City B (also not his own), and field sales reps and customer scattered all around, much more than he needs to interact with the other PMMs in his own location.

    If he wants to work out of a home office during the 30% of the time he is not traveling, what on earth is wrong with that?

  12. Astonishing

    If women in the workforce is to be the social norm (duh!), society must make adjustments to accommodate women’s other more necessary roles (e.g., motherhood).

    The question is, How should such accommodations be instituted and enforced? Voluntarily, by caring and public-spirited employers? Or mandated, by government?

    The extra cost of adjustments to accommodate women’s other roles necessarily means that women, generally, will be less profitable to employ. Indeed, many women leave the workforce altogether during what would be their most productive years. Apart from the social costs of educating women for careers they won’t pursue, should society make yet more accommodations so that their lesser relative productivity, and the greater likelihood that they will exit the workforce for extended periods, does not negatively affect their job prospects?

    An employer, say a law firm, hiring from a crop of twenty-five year old men and woman fresh out of law school, does not know which ones might still be with the firm as highly productive partners fifteen years later, but the employer does know that there will be more men than women. Should the employer be permitted to adjust his hiring to reflect such facts?

  13. SunnyOptimism
    EThompson: Kudos to her, indeed. As who one worked in a corporate environment for years, I can attest to the critical roleperson-to-person comradery does play in building a successful culture, one that (gasp!) cannot be achieved over the internet.

    Furthermore, I have listened to numerous complaints from fellow employees who are often asked to take on the additional responsibilities that need to be addressed a/o and on site.

    Very timely, relevant post. · 17 minutes ago

    Totally disagree.  I have the exact opposite experience in that I have excellent working professional and personal relationships with my fellow department members and we met face-to-face ONCE about a two years ago.

    Corporate instant messaging, web conferencing and video conferencing enable more rapid exchange of ideas than one-on-one, stop-by-the-cubicle interactions.  BS water-cooler talk is minimized and work is very productive.  

    However, I am willing to believe that you, personally, work better in an office environment and so I think this is an issue of “to each his own”

  14. SunnyOptimism
    EThompson:

    Furthermore, I have listened to numerous complaints from fellow employees who are often asked to take on the additional responsibilities that need to be addressed a/o and on site.

    Very timely, relevant post. · 22 minutes ago

    I also call BS on this notion as well!  I work longer hours and more hours per week than do my office-based colleagues.  I have zero-commute time, I don’t go out for lunch or to a cafeteria, I can work late at night after the wife and kids are asleep (and I do that A LOT) and, when my kids are sick or there’s a family emergency need, I can more rapidly respond to that and get back to work sooner than I would if I had to go running out of the office….

    Also, I don’t INFECT others when I’m sick which is a HUGE problem for those people that refuse to stay home and get better.  They infect their colleagues and cause more employee downtime doing that.  I’d love to see a real study done on this issue and how it affects productivity…

  15. SunnyOptimism
    EThompson: @SunnyOptimism

    My experience is this: a personal two-minute interaction accomplishes more than a web or video conference in which I have found that strategies are often misconstrued and need to be reviewed yet again, costing both time and money. Even tech giants Apple and Facebook demand consistent presence at “the office.” (Can you ever imagine Steve Jobs dealing with a design snafu over the internet? He spent half of his workday in the design room.)

    I have my own business now where visual impact is a critical aspect to its success and my young, twenty-something visual director agrees it saves us all a lot of time and miscommunication to have a brief one-on-one conversation. As he put it so aptly: “Body language, facial expressions and general personal communication leaves less room for misinterpretation.”

    In any case, numbers don’t lie: re-read das_motorhead #10. · 40 minutes ago

    Funny, I seem to remember that Steve Jobs’ entire creative enterprise was to make “stuff” that allowed people to connect at a distance….

    As for the stock price (das_motorhead #10), I’ll take the long position and wager that you’ll see the company hollow out very quickly….

  16. SunnyOptimism
    SunnyOptimism

    EThompson: @SunnyOptimism

    My experience is this: a personal two-minute interaction accomplishes more than a web or video conference in which I have found that strategies are often misconstrued and need to be reviewed yet again, costing both time and money. 

    So I guess Ricochet will be a failed enterprise in your analysis and doomed to irrelevancy because Rob, Peter, James and BlueYeti don’t spend enough time rubbing elbows together?

  17. EThompson
    SunnyOptimism

    EThompson:

    My experience is this: a personal two-minute interaction accomplishes more than a web or video conference in which I have found that strategies are often misconstrued and need to be reviewed yet again…  Even tech giants Apple and Facebook demand consistent presence at “the office.” (Can you ever imagine Steve Jobs dealing with a design snafu over the internet? He spent half of his workday in the design room.)

    Funny, I seem to remember that Steve Jobs’ entire creative enterprise was to make “stuff” that allowed people to connect at a distance….

    Forget what the end product was and focus upon what it took to get it on the market. That most certainly required personal interaction.

    SunnyOptimism

    SunnyOptimism

    EThompson:

    My experience is this: a personal two-minute interaction accomplishes more than a web or video conference in which I have found that strategies are often misconstrued and need to be reviewed yet again, costing both time and money. 

    So I guess Ricochet will be a failed enterprise in your analysis and doomed to irrelevancy because Rob, Peter, James and BlueYeti don’t spend enough time rubbing elbows together?

    You are comparing apples to oranges; words to products.

  18. das_motorhead
    SunnyOptimism

    Funny, I seem to remember that Steve Jobs’ entire creative enterprise was to make “stuff” that allowed people to connect at a distance….

    As for the stock price (das_motorhead #10), I’ll take the long position and wager that you’ll see the company hollow out very quickly…. 

    Jobs also built an entire headquarters around the idea that one huge, open space would be conducive to people bumping into each other and developing ideas that wouldn’t happen if they were housed in separate wings/buildings/locations.

    The company may hollow out very quickly, Yahoo is a disaster and it will take a lot to bring it back. But either way, this decision was made two days ago and if we’re going to take the long position, shouldn’t we wait and see? It may prove catastrophic for the reasons you name, but as others have pointed out, Yahoo needed a massive shakeup. This counts as such, and Mayer will be judged – in a year or two – by her board and shareholders based solely on results.

  19. CuriousKevmo

    I work at home one day a week.  In the past I have managed teams having a mix of work-at-home, work in the office and work in remote offices.  Managing all those people at various regions can be difficult but it can be done effectively.  My experience suggests it comes down to the individuals.

    Some, me among them, work very well at home.  Others take advantage and aren’t as effective. They need to be monitored more closely.  But this is a management problem for the individual manager, I suspect a blanket no-work-at-home policy is likely to lose me the very best employees that I have.

  20. RPD

    I notice that nearly all the discussion here is on the merits of Mayer’s decision but nothing regarding whether her being a woman has any relevance, nor is anyone asserting an employer’s duty to improving the quality of life of their employees. By my lights this is as it should be.

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