• Scott Behson

Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer and a Big Step Backwards

Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! banned working from home. Why it was the wrong decision, and how it sends a dangerous signal.

Who’da thought she’d be the one setting back the cause of working parents?


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I’ve long believed that businesses would become much more flexible and progressive when it comes to work-family issues when those of my generation rose to positions of leadership.

Current 40-somethings are the first to grow up with dual-career couples for parents, while mostly being in dual-career marriages in their own lives. This generation of leaders is also more diverse and gender-equal than any that came before. This perspective, I’ve always thought, would finally lead to widespread understanding that workplace flexibility is not just a nice thing to do, but is good business- keeping step with our changing world improves a company’s ability to better attract and retain top talent.

The first nominee for poster child of this generation of leadership was Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo! (and former Google wunderkind), who made headlines as the youngest female CEO of a Fortune 500 company (and was named CEO while pregnant!). Many, including me, had high hopes for a fresh approach to leadership and for a CEO who would empathize with fellow working parents.

Well, Ms. Mayer has passed up the chance to champion workplace flexibility. In fact, she has probably set the movement back when she announced that Yahoo! employees will no longer be allowed to work from home. None of them.

Mayer’s is a patently dumb decision. It shouldn’t be telework for all or telework for none. The ability to telecommute should be based on the individual and the job. If an employee proves trustworthy and reliable, and performs a job for which telework is appropriate, then they should telecommute, at least some of the time (Mayer really needs to read my blog, especially this series of articles). Sub-optimal bosses reject telework because they fear they can no longer monitor employee performance and/or confuse being fair with treating everyone exactly the same. When used appropriately telework brings many benefits.

Mayer’s decision is on the wrong side of business history. 84 of the Fortune 100 companies allow part-time telecommuting. Over 20% of employees at such companies as SC Johnson, Qualcomm, Booz Allen, Fidelity, Cisco and Goldman Sachs telecommute. If they can allow for telecommuting, why can’t Yahoo?

Mayer’s decision is also an important step backwards. If the young, tech-savvy, new mother CEO (of an internet company, no less!!!) doesn’t recognize that work schedules can be arranged to accommodate family life (and not just the other way around, as evidenced by the nursery she built into her office suite), this gives license to all the “old school” management types to hold back the tide a little while longer.

Yahoo! employees lose, but, in a small way, so do the employees of many other companies. (or maybe there’s still hope, as the backlash has begun in earnest- see here, here and here)

For more on this topic, please read Lisa Belkin’s take at Huffpo and especially Neil Cohen’s brilliant take at Man on Third.

Your reactions? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

This piece originally appeared at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine, and will be the topic of my interview Friday morning for NPR’s Morning Edition.

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#culturecommentary #Yahoo #MarissaMayer #telework #workplaceflexibility #workfromhome #telecommuting

© 2020 by Scott Behson

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