Ah, Marissa Mayer: the working mom you love to hate. Why? In case you missed it last year, a then-pregnant Mayer disappointed working moms across the country by simultaneously becoming the new CEO of Yahoo! and the youngest chief executive in Fortune 500 history, and announcing that she would take only two weeks of maternity leave after the birth of her first child. Cue the booing, hissing, and snark over not only the fact that Mayer was sending women the wrong message about balancing work and family, but also, about how she was likely to fail once the reality of having a newborn hit her. And as much as I tried to steer clear of that debate by emphasizing how different the life of a major executive is from the life led by most of us working moms, I will admit that it bothered me. Mayer proved the naysayers wrong when she took her two weeks, came back, and then slapped us all in the face again by – BAM! – announcing that she found having a newborn in the house to be easy.
Secretly, I was among those hoping for Mayer to fail. That’s an extremely horrible thing to wish for any fellow working mom, and I suspect that, deep down, I never really meant it. It’s just easier to take out your frustration and rage over the deep workplace inequalities suffered by women in general, and moms in particular, on an abstract, media-created image of a person who seems larger than life, who is in a position of extreme power (smallest violin in the world for the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies), and who I don’t even know personally, and likely never will. The satisfaction of savoring an “I told you so!” moment, in any context, is fleeting; it feels good to be right, but it feels so bad to realize afterward that life goes on while the true underlying problem has not been resolved.
So that’s why I’m trying (admittedly, struggling) to rein in my impulse to trash Mayer for her latest exercise of authority: announcing that Yahoo! employees will no longer be allowed to work from home. Lisa Belkin has a link up on HuffPost Parents to the human resources department memo issued at Mayer’s behest, which reportedly cites concerns with a decrease in “speed and quality,” attributed to the lack of good old-fashioned facetime. Despite initial rumors of the tech giant’s anticipated demise with Mayer at the helm, over the past several months, the young CEO appears to have won the confidence of shareholders. This move is likely the latest in a series of carefully planned coups intended to do precisely that.
But here’s the thing: Mayer is doing what any other big company executive would do: seeking to maximize profits. I don’t know exactly what prompted the move, or whether it makes good business sense for Yahoo! in particular, or whether Mayer even considered doing things differently – creating a more stringent policy and oversight for work-at-home procedures, for example – before taking this seemingly draconian measure. But what’s clear to me is that Mayer is doing exactly what is expected of a CEO. Her job is to lead the company and make shareholders happy by making them money. So while I’m not applauding her decision, it does make me wonder if our collective feelings of injustice are misdirected at her, personally, when instead, we should be targeting more globally the political, economic and social institutions that encourage businesses to place profits over their employees’ quality of life. After all, in the business world, you work for someone else’s bottom line, and you are therefore expected to conduct yourself in a manner that benefits the company to the maximum extent possible, even when doing so means that your personal needs take a hit.
That problem is one reason why I’m staking my claim as Queen of my own hive, after years of being a worker bee. It may not be right for everyone, but entrepreneurship has its rewards as well as its risks. And some businesses are realizing that family-friendly work policies actually benefit them in the long run, due to the decrease in hiring and training costs that result from higher employee retention rates. In any event, if Marissa Mayer was a man, then instead of taking the time to call her out for her callousness to working moms, wouldn’t we be satisfied with the eye-rolling more typically reserved for life’s everyday injustices, and then move on with our day? And while, admittedly, that may just be the problem: that we roll our eyes and move on when we should be saying instead that enough is enough; it’s clear that blaming a young mom who happens to be a powerful executive – and not the system that put her up on that dubious pedestal in the first place – is unlikely to bring about any meaningful change.