Marissa Mayer's decision isn't a "women's issue"

Brette seen here at her desk on a particularly cold day.

Brette seen here at her desk on a particularly cold day.

A lot of the discussion surrounding Marissa Mayer’s call for Yahoo! employees to return to the office full time has focused on the fact that she’s a woman balancing life and career. People are calling the decision wrong-headed or even a “snobbish” one that negatively reflects her (and Yahoo!’s) view of women in the workplace.

But if we continue to portray this as a woman’s issue, we will have completely missed the point. This is a work-life balance issue, and a family issue, for both genders. Where you work and the hours you devote to that work is your decision, whether you’re a man a woman, albeit one still dictated by economic realities. I would argue that Mayer is not picking on women, but rather signaling–however loudly–that culture change is underway and that perhaps it’s time for Yahoo! employees to decide whether Yahoo! is the right place for them.

If you look at it this way, her message, though certainly disappointing to many, isn’t terribly different from that of Barclay’s CEO Antony Jenkins when he issued his ultimatum to bank employees on meeting ethical standards after a crushing scandal: as’s Derek Irvine put it: “Live and work by our values, or leave.”

At Fresh Ground we give our employees (and ourselves) flexibility to do the work no matter where they are. So on any given day you may find an office full of people or a bunch of empty desks. Factors that drive the decision can be as varied as the commute time, the weather, what work needs to get done or when we need to pick up children.

My wife and I both own our own businesses and we split parental duties. I’m often the one dropping my children off at school and picking them up, then shuttling them off to soccer, piano, Karate, Chinese, tutoring or any of a number of different activities.

Technology has made this possible. At Fresh Ground our office numbers can be set to ring our cell phones and our desk phones, our data is hosted in the cloud, our computers are all laptops and we often use free tools like Google Hangout and

Still, there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction. Our culture drives people into the office. We learn from one another, we toss ideas around, we ask for advice. We’re collaborative.

A great blog post in the Harvard Business Review points out how Mayer is a data-driven CEO who, most likely, looked at the data of the best performing projects and teams, looked for consistency and made a decision that’s right for the company.

That’s not a decision driven only by what’s friendly for “women” but one that’s best for the company. We don’t know what other decisions she may make to ensure that Yahoo! is more family-friendly, but I suspect she’ll bring in other ways to support parents’ needs. But let’s dispense with the idea that this is a “female” issue and look at it for what it really is: a decision by a CEO who knows her stuff and wants to make her company stronger.

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  1. Good post, Chuck! I think you are probably right. From this perspective the decision is also not about the nature of collaboration or innovation, both of which can and do happen regardless of whether people are collocated. My experience is that the tools and processes for collaboration vary depending on whether the team is connected digitally or physically, but the potential quality or quantity is the same.

  2. I agree with you, Chuck. But here’s why Marissa Mayer’s decision is viewed as a women’s issue – she’s a high-profile new mom who many are watching (rightly or wrongly) to see what signals she sends out about the next generation of working women. If she were male, there would likely be backlash but the emphasis would be on how the male CEO was making a decision for the co’s future health.

    • ctanowitz says:

      I agree with you, but here’s the thing: we don’t know what else she may do in this area. Some companies pay for things like house cleaning or handle food shopping, all ways to take the “work” out of being “home.” She may be doing all of those things, or oculd implement them over time.

      But if we call this a “women’s issue” then we’re marginalizing it into the world of “career women.” This makes it easy for the male-docminated C-suites in other companies to ignore.

      It’s the media doing this. Look at the stories the reporters ran out and did, all talking with “mothers” as if they’re the only people impacted. They’re not. It’s everyone. Work-life balance is a social issue for young, old, parents, singles, marrieds, etc. We need to treat it that way.


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