WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2013 - Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer opened up a parent war last week when the new first time mom threw out the company’s remote work policy and ordered all employees to work only from the office, beginning in June.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” an internal memo acquired by All Things D read. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.
The former veteran of Google got even more blowback when reports leaked that Mayer had a private nursery built inside her office so she could bring her son to work with her, an accommodation and privilege that the other parents at Yahoo! did not have. Immediately, cries of hypocrisy were heard from the blogsphere and women and parents’ rights groups.
But oh the fair weather friends.
Only months before, Mayer was openly lauded for getting hired to turn a struggling company around while she was already 6-months pregnant.
From that point on, Mayer watch was on! Her pregnancy and successes were solidified on the radar of millions, all rooting her on and watching her every move.
Technology companies, with a disproportionate number of top executives under 40 and the increasing presence of women, are finding ways to accommodate childbirth and young kids, a 2012 Bloomberg article on the announcement stated.
In 2011, the labor force included almost 61% of women with kids under 3 and 56% of women with children under 1, according to Catalyst, an organization that tracks women’s advancement in the workplace, which cited statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On top of that, Mayer already faced the eyeballs of expectations, being the fifth CEO the flailing company hired in five years. Talk about pressure.
But no soon after delivering, pro-baby critics berated her for returning to work merely two weeks after delivering her child in September 30. They argued she set unrealistic expectations for other new moms out there who should be spending their time bonding after delivery. Never mind the fact that the United States is one of few industrialized nations to not offer paid maternity leave and worse than 16 other high-income nations. The Family Medical Leave Act only requires an employer to hold a woman’s job for twelve weeks after delivery, but does not require that she be paid for that time off. Currently, only 60 percent of women have access to paid leave. Some may even have elected to take a job at Yahoo! because of its once flexible work-at-home policies.
But Mayer is unlike other CEOs. She is a minority. She is one of 42 female CEOs, 4.2%, of fortune 500 and 1000 companies. So Mayer is held to a different standard and cannot lavish in the luxury of expecting something like time with her newborn son. [note sarcasm]
She had the task of fulfilling her promise to return $3 Billion to shareholders from the sale of Yahoo! assets. And she has been having mucho success. Within six months of taking the reins, Yahoo saw growth and a turn around in morale at the company.
And those who understand business get her tenacity and eagerness to cut the slackers and trim the fat to continue that success.
Her recent perceived anti-family decisions got some backing. She got plenty of support from members of the tech community of both gender. IT World’s Kristin Burnham looked at whether collaboration was to blame requiring the hard fast rule to maximize productivity and that over time, it could return once she is able to weed out the slackers. Greg Moore of the Denver Post said a content-focused company required in-person presence for bouncing off ideas and delivering feedback.
As a woman, Mayer has become a blatant example of how success breeds higher requirements. The same could be said of President Barack Obama. I wrote a piece in 2011, Black Politicians and their Invisible Backpacks, which spoke about the fact that African Americans who reach the pinnacle of success are not permitted to rest on their laurels and simply “exist” like their cohorts. They must constantly excel, and meet the expectations of those they share the same heritage with. They have to satisfy their demands as well. After all, they are constantly reminded that they are standing on the shoulders of their ancestors who helped bridge the possibility for their ascension.
Similarly, for Mayer. She is her sister’s keepers. Her success is their success, whether she likes it or not. Her decisions on running Yahoo! could have wide spread implications and provide a framework for how women are treated in the workplace.
In this unique way, minorities and women who reach the tippy top are disadvantaged by their success.
By breaking through barriers succeeding beyond odds, they are saddled with additional expectations.
It is an axiomatic flip in paradigm to those who bemoan being reverse-discrimination victims to unfair affirmative action programs that help elevate traditionally underrepresented groups.
Are they really the victims to following in the already carefully laid footsteps of their forefathers and CEOs who resembled them down to the polished shoes and closely shaven beard?
This example can be seen in the venture capital scenario where angel and private equity funders feel comfortable investing in those who have achieved success in the past. When the universe looks only a certain way, those who don’t fit into the mold have a higher hurdle to prove they are worthy of the funding or in Mayer’s case, the hire.
Mayer simply does not have time to be a test case for all the parents in the world. Now, more than ever, with the entire world now monitoring her progress, Mayer has the extra burden of succeeding.
It may be a stretch, but it would be very challenging to find a male CEO who has been set up to falter as much as Mayer has, certainly not the three men that preceded her in her current position.
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