Marissa Mayer (Photo credit: jdlasica)
When an announcement came from Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer last week that the company was unabashedly abolishing work-from-home status without exception, a lot of people took note even though the new policy would only affect some 150 individuals.
If we’re learning anything from the conversations this week it’s that the glass ceiling is alive and well as expectations of female execs differ from their male counterparts. And if you didn’t know that, Mayer is handing you the memo on a silver platter.
Much of the talk against Mayer’s move seems to stem from (some) peoples’ paradise lost. Many eagerly embraced the female tech CEO (who also happens to be a new mother), assuming she would help fellow females (and indeed men and families as well) with a more thoughtful approach to work/life balance. She may have just crossed the River Rubicon for those naive hopefuls, but ironically she may be just as naive.
Clearly, Mayer wasn’t chosen to lead the struggling Yahoo so that she could break glass ceilings. Her career has proven her to be a poster child for traditional work paths and ethos. This is an individual who was driven from a very young age to be successful in a career of her choice, graduating with honors from Stanford with an M.S. in Computer Science at a time when many of her counterparts didn’t even know that degree existed let alone what it meant. She bucked the trend by turning down lucrative job offers to go to work for some fledgling search engine called Google that had only just moved out of a garage.
Yep, she’s a ladder climber in case you didn’t know, and ladder climbers don’t care much for work/life balance because they’re busy climbing. If you can’t keep up, move outta the way.
But I’ve got some news. Most people aren’t in fact ladder climbers (at least not for long). And just as alphas serve prerequisite for innovation and accomplishments, the insight, talent and expertise of those who choose to balance their work in ways outside of the box remains useful (and largely untapped) to organizations. When left with cookie-cutter office expectations, they not only often fail but they lead to exactly the apathy that Mayer is up against at Yahoo.
But back to Mayer. Her experience at Google put her on the precipice of power and she seized the opportunity to jump a very comfortable and cushy ship to go to the struggling (some might assert sinking) Yahoo in a shrewd move that would either make or break her future career. Whether she steers this massive ship or sinks it, she isn’t going down without a fight. Her tenacity is enviable, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Less neo-feminist bitch and more Alpha stud, she’s like any other Silicon Valley exec- wining and dining with politicians, global thought-leaders and fellow innovators while pulling eighteen hour days and expecting everyone else to do the same. Though many despise this mentality, we can all give thanks to the likes of Mayer and her cohorts whenever we whip out our latest gadget or collect a paycheck.
Yes, Mayer is a real cowgirl bucking the trends right and left in a male-dominated world. But as others have pointed out, she’s got a lot of help in the stable. This is a woman who has a nursery in her office so that she can sustain her workaholic ways (let’s just call it what is it… no pain, no gain) while occasionally tending to her wee little one. She has an army of nannies and extraordinary wealth (both of her own making and that of her investor husband Zachary Bogue) to employ while her employees have… well… not that.
Mayer learned much from her years at Google whose famous company culture can thank campus life just as much as hoodie-donned engineers for its success. While on-site services incentivize employees to show up earlier and leave later, the idea is to use a carrot rather than stick approach. And it’s worked. Already, Mayer recently announced some such services into the Yahoo protocol, taking what she learned previously and hoping to create an incubated organization capable of innovation. She also has the company’s location in Silicon Valley on her side, where most professionals are more than self-incentivized already to work long hours given their high college debts, average million dollar houses and shiny new gadgetry (I know, I live here).
But Yahoo’s culture has notoriously suffered from employee apathy in recent years, a clear target in the scope of Mayer. By taking aim at a handful of employees (while falling under everyone’s radar in the process), she diverged from Google’s carrot approach in favor of the stick.
Now, we’re left scratching our heads wondering if THAT was the right target to hit. After all, ONE ONE-HUNDREDTH OF A PERCENT of employees were working from home and the other 99.99% were at their desks. Seems like the issue is with managing the 100% rather than chopping off the hardly visible 0.01%. Hell, I’d venture to guess that most companies would gladly give in to some more flex time for the right employees rather than assume that a 20-something in tight jeans and a flannel who’s willing to work on Red Bull has what it takes to make an organization succeed (if you know Silicon Valley, you know what I’m talking about). But what do I know- I’m just a writer.
Kara Swisher, the All Things D co-exec editor whose work I am consistently and unapologetically enamored with, put the move best when she told KQED’s Michael Krasny, “The idea is a good one- to get people excited to be at work… (but) it’s a broad brush. There’s plenty of lazy people sitting at desks at Yahoo, as with any company.”
By targeting a paltry number of employees who telecommute, have Mayer and her HR crew missed the forest for the trees? There are dead-weight button pushers in Yahoo’s offices and conversely, invaluable individuals working from home (I’m not arguing that telecommuting is always ideal: not everyone is good at working from home, not every instance is comparable, and not every position is appropriate for it). Still, with only a hundred and a few score, if you can’t figure out who’s worth keeping and who isn’t then your problems extend far beyond the telecommuters and into the way in which your managers operate.
In the end, Mayer and crew are trying to re-energize their population but playing the Queen of Hearts and shouting, “Off with their heads!” hardly seems like the right approach. But more power to her. She has always, after all, bucked the trends.
Signing out (from my home office).