Memo to Marissa Mayer @Yahoo
Memo to Marissa Mayer @Yahoo: Your new telecommuting ban is a setback for working moms. It will only sow resentment, not innovation.
Recently, Mayer announced that starting in June, all of Yahoo’s workers will be required to work in the office. Her edict set off a firestorm of criticism and a long-overdue debate about the benefits of working from home.
I’m worried that Yahoo’s prominent decision will encourage other companies to follow suit. That would not be good for working parents, who depend on flexible arrangements to try to keep work and parenting in balance.
As a working mom and longtime teleworker, I’m offended at the suggestion that I and other parents who’ve found some semblance of balance in our work lives are less innovative or creative.
From the moment Mother Nature blessed me and my husband with twins, I’ve been innovating like crazy, trying to keep it all together.
That’s why it’s so galling to hear Mayer, whose salary the New York Times estimates will exceed $117 million in the next five years, scolding telecommuters for shirking their corporate duties. Mayer recently gave birth to her first child, and was at work back after two weeks; she had a nursery installed next to her office.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, one in four U.S. workers logs in some time from home. I understand that companies like Yahoo depend on some amount of face-to-face interaction to make that corporate magic happen.
And Yahoo is struggling—hence the desperate effort to call in the troops. Of course, it’s a good idea to make sure all workers (remote or in the office) are meeting their goals and contributing to the effort.
But an industry leader like Yahoo should be able to harness technology to keep its people connected.
A blanket decision like the one the company just handed down elevates office culture while denigrating the need for family-friendly policies.
As I juggle multiple tasks for a variety of clients, I know I’m lucky to be able to roll out of bed to my computer. I save money on gas, transportation, food, and clothes. I take walks to clear my head.
And I save time, too, the most precious commodity in a culture where overscheduled, frantic parents scramble for quality time with their offspring — who, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, spend an average of seven hours every day on entertainment media (TV, computers, phones, and other electronic devices).
My husband and I have made it priority to have someone at home when our sons — who are now 13 — get home from school. We’ve gone from holding their hands to and from our neighborhood schools, to greeting hosts of lanky 8th graders as they disappear into the world of teens. They do their share of video gaming (zombie killing and Black Ops), but it’s important to us that someone is here to remind them of life beyond the screen.
We cook meals together, and we all sit down at the table together and talk.
Not every night, but as many as we can. Naturally, our sons think this is old fashioned and silly, but we know it’s made our family strong.
Our family has benefitted from flexible workplace arrangements. When I worked at the Progressive Media Project, I had a paid maternity leave and generous health benefits—something unattainable for most families in the United States, which has some of the least generous family leave benefits in the industrialized world.
When I moved on to edit a nonprofit publication, Rethinking Schools, I was needed in Milwaukee, 80 miles away. I would sometimes stay late, or even for days at a time at the end of an intense quarterly production cycle. But the majority of my work could be done from my home computer, via the wonders of email. So we innovated together, my employers and I, to determine what the best arrangement was for doing quality work and raising a family.
Now as a freelance writer and editor who works exclusively from home, I sometimes yearn for an office culture. I miss debating the meaning of a word or an obscure style point only other journalists would wonder about. I miss impromptu lunches or coffee breaks. At The Progressive, we even had some poetry readings on Fridays. But I’ve benefitted, too, from watching my sons grow and steering them in positive directions.
As I watched the excellent PBS documentary The Makers, which ran last Tuesday, I thought again about the question that has plagued women throughout our history as workers: How can women achieve equality in the workplace and still be attentive parents?
Some answers are obvious, but maddeningly distant: equality in the home, equal pay, paid parental leave, affordable health care, daycare. And, I would add, flexible work schedules.
The women’s movement laid the groundwork for some women, like Marissa Mayer, to rise into the ranks of the corporate elite. That’s why it was disappointing, to say the least, to see Mayer onscreen in The Makers, fresh-faced in her beautiful office, saying “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist…I don’t have sort of the militant drive and the sort of chip on the shoulder than sometimes comes with that.”
Well, Marissa, I’m glad I don’t work for you. (And if you’re wondering, I wrote this in my pajamas.)
Catherine Capellaro is a freelance writer and musician in Madison, Wis.
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