I Don't Work for Yahoo! Why Do I Care About Marissa Mayer's Policy?

4 years ago

I always know news has hit the mainstream when my mother asks me about it. Yesterday, she called me to ask how I felt about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to ban telecommuting by June 2013, even for those who were hired in a city that doesn't have a Yahoo! office. The truth? I feel super invested in this policy -- something that doesn't affect my life at all -- and it's taken me a few days to figure out why.

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It's not that Mayer is a woman or a working mother. Initially I was certain that the source of my frustration, but when I turned it over in my head, it's not. It's that Mayer -- who is a C-level exec at a major company and therefore making scads of money -- brought her home to work by spending her own money to build a nursery in her executive suite while telling her employees they needed to work from the office full-time -- even if they'd been hired with the understanding they could work remotely -- or quit. In other words, if Mayer's child needs attention, Mayer can behave as though she were working from home. She can breastfeed instead of pumping in the storage closet. She can monitor a sick child’s fever by touching her lips to her child’s forehead. It may be chaining Mayer to her office, but it's also bringing everything that could go wrong outside her office to her so she -- unlike her employees -- doesn't have to look for back-up.

It’s about flexibility, all about flexibility. I have worked from home full-time for BlogHer and for another Internet company that was headquartered in India for a total of almost five years. I've managed teams of remote freelancers at BlogHer and at a large tax preparation company headquartered in Kansas City. I've worked in offices and not in offices and I don't feel physical proximity equals productivity, but that is actually neither here nor there. Requiring people to come in is a business decision that a CEO has every right to make. What's stuck in my craw is that Mayer herself isn't walking the walk with that nursery when there is no onsite daycare or school for her employees' kids or elderly parents.

My definition of workplace flexibility is the freedom to take care of home issues as they come up, regardless of whether you're at work or not. Give me that, and I will take care of my employer's issues as they come up whether I am on the clock or not. In the BlogHer 2012 Women and Work Study, BlogHer found that I'm not the only one who just wants to be able to take care of my life as it happens without every little crisis blowing up into something so much bigger than it needs to be because of facetime. People want flexibility.

This entrepreneurial spirit aligns with the work qualities that women now value most. Across generational and income lines, women reported remarkably similar values. When prompted for the most important attributes of a dream job, flexibility and creativity captured the top 67% (36% and 31% respectively), distantly followed by money, which was a top attribute for only 8% of respondents. While the lowest-income tier of respondents placed a notably higher value on money as an important work attribute, even they ranked flexibility and creativity higher.

Flexibility isn't a mother's issue, or a woman's issue, it's a human issue. It has been a human issue since the agrarian woman tied her baby to her back and went to work in the fields. It's an issue animals face as they figure out who is going to find the food and who is going to guard the cave and who is going to nurse the babies. I have no idea why we are still discussing the value or lack thereof in making employee's lives easier so they can give their best to their jobs and to their families without burnout, heart attacks and road rage.

I don't know anything about Yahoo!'s telework situation. It seems from what I'm reading that there were a bunch of Yahoos abusing the system, and that's too bad, but you know what? There are paths to addressing people who aren't getting their work done. Disciplinary measures, mentor sessions, pink slips. That Mayer would build herself a nursery and then deny her employees the same flexibility -- because yes, having a nursery in your office does give you flexibility -- seems like the wrong message to send.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the senior editor of BlogHer. Find more at www.surrenderdorothyblog.com.

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