Face Time or Family Time?  Deconstructing the Yahoo Decree
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Face Time or Family Time? Deconstructing the Yahoo Decree

Silicon Valley’s most notorious working mom has ground her high heel in the proverbial diaper again.  Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer tackled the top job when five months pregnant and then (in)famously took only two weeks maternity leave.

Now she has banned her employees from telecommuting. 

Feminists and Mommy Wars luminaries have lit up newspaper columns and the blogosphere questioning the wisdom of Mayer’s weirdly retro decree, a rarity in the progressive, egalitarian, innovative tech world of companies such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Apple.

But what stuck under my fingernails was the news that Mayer herself, at her own expense, built a nursery next to her Yahoo office so she could be with her infant son without sacrificing any face time at work. 

Pretty cool solution, eh?

The problem is that Mayer’s very smart response to the pressures on her as a working parent, and the lack of high-quality, affordable daycare, is a solution that only works for one of Yahoo’s 11,500 employees. Yahoo does not offer onsite daycare for any one but Marissa Mayer. The arrogance and hypocrisy of Mayer’s mandate – “I will move my baby next door to my office so that I can juggle work and motherhood, but my company is not going to help other parents do the same” – galls me. 

One of the most demoralizing, enervating logjams created by American society is to pile on cultural pressure for women to be primary caregivers and nurturers for young children, and then deny them any and all practical support for this role in the workplace.  It’s a psychological squeeze box of guilt, pressure and fear, one that few mothers have the fortitude and ingenuity to dismantle. Thus many women drop out of the workforce, or drop down to the dreaded Mommy Track of fewer promotions and pay hikes in exchange for more priceless time at home.

A lot more of us working parents could get away with only two weeks baby leave if we too had a custom-built crib and nursing station a few feet from our office. Those of us in the corporate world call that onsite daycare, which is designed to help parents balance work and caring for children at the same time. 

A helping hand juggling work and kids is also part of the logic behind allowing employees to work at home; the flexibility allows many employees to get their work done and care for a sick or needy child in the same day.

So how does Marissa Mayer justify giving herself one of the most coveted workplace perks, at the same time she yanks it away from her employees?

Mayer’s mandate makes me question her leadership, her judgment and her future in the business world.

Unfortunately, this double standard is all too common for working moms at different executive levels.  Call it Mommy Wars 2.0. These days, working and stay-at-home moms understand each other a whole lot better than we once did. Taking the place of these old battles are today’s skirmishes between working moms at different levels of the org chart.

I faced this duel myself a few years ago, when my third child was a toddler. I was happily juggling a high-powered job which I did 50% from home.  I had worked at the company for nearly five years. During this time, I had taken every assignment the company gave me, with minimal pay increases; for an entire 12-month stretch, I worked three full-time jobs simultaneously.  My sales and profit results were better than any other manager in any of my three positions in the history of the company.

Enter powerful new boss.  She too had three young kids. As well as several nannies, and an elite position in the company that allowed her unlimited flexibility when it came to time with her kids. She also had an ex-husband who had custody 50% of the time.

Plus my boss had different priorities than I did when it came to raising her children. Given her prominent position, face time at the office mattered more to her than whether she or a nanny took the kids to the doctor or tucked them in at night (tasks I liked to do myself, even if it hurt my career temporarily).

Whammo, a few weeks into her new position she decreed that I could no longer work from home at all.  This meant I had to find new household help, doubling my childcare expenses, and cut in half the time my kids saw me during their waking hours.  My husband traveled every week for work, so he was not available to help care for our kids.

Suddenly, I had to choose: face time or family time.

The choice, for me, was surprisingly easy. But even now I fume over my boss’ stupidity in forcing me out. Because, like so many educated women with a strong resume, I chose to put my kids first. I figured correctly it would not be difficult to find a new employer who valued my contributions no matter where I logged my hours.

Although I left with a smile on my face, I wonder about those moms I left behind. What about the single parents with several kids, who lacked my educational pedigree and economic flexibility?  Wouldn’t all companies be better off it they treated working parents with respect instead of condescension?

“Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job,” wrote Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s human resources chief, in her attempt to explain Marissa Mayer’s decision to employees. “It is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”

My response: “There are also interactions and experiences that are only possible when you are actually, physically, with your your children. Being a parent isn’t about destroying your children’s sense of worth, and your self-respect as a parent, by always being available to the office over your family. Finding a company that understands your need to be a good parent and a good employee increases productivity and employee loyalty, key success factors for any company’s future.”

I hope Marissa Mayer listens.

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