When Yahoo! announced that it would end employee telecommuting starting June 1st, the decision was met with near-universal condemnation. Some called the ban on telework outdated and draconian, others decried it as a war on working mothers. And many, from my Facebook friends to TV pundits postulated as to why the company would make such a change.
Few commenters gave much credence to Yahoo!’s assertion that bringing people back to the office will foster communication and collaboration. Even fewer dignified the possibility that telecommuting was hurting the company’s bottom line and hindering innovation. The vast majority decided that the CEO’s gender was the foundation of the debate.
Many asked how Marissa Mayer, a working mother, could do this to other working mothers. But some people took their criticism a step further and asked: Is Marissa Mayer making this change to prove that she can be taken seriously as a CEO?
Translation: Is that girl in charge of a Fortune 500 company trying to prove that she’s qualified to sit at the Big Boy’s Table by telling her female employees that they need to buck up and come into the office like the men do?
Whether ending telecommuting will hurt Yahoo!’s ability to retain talented people or make them less competitive when hiring Silicon Valley-talent is a question that is asked after the reporters, commenters and pundits remind you that the CEO has ovaries.
Why is it okay for a lot–a lot–of allegedly-forward thinking, allegedly-feminist people to scrutinize Marissa Mayer as a woman first, and a CEO second?
The answer is, that when it comes to business decisions, it’s not. But the peanut gallery isn’t talking about why Yahoo! made this decision, they’re talking about why Marissa Mayer made this decision, and they’re basing their conclusions primarily on assumptions and gender, rarely mentioning facts.
Census data shows that more than 50-percent of telecommuters are men, and that 60-percent of telecommuters don’t have children under the age of 18. And while the common belief is that telecommuting improves work-family balance, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that telework is “not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts.” But let’s pretend that most of the criticism stems from the fact that Yahoo! is a tech company, and that tech companies are supposed to relish flexible work conditions…
Facebook and Google–the companies Yahoo! is most comparable to and most wants to be like–encourage employees to come to a physical office to improve work quality, and neither has an official policy on telecommuting, though they don’t expressly ban it. In fact, Google’s CFO, Patrick Pachette–a Y-chromosome carrier, and keeper of the bottom line–recently told an audience that Google wants to have “as few [telecommuters] as possible.”
Whether you see telecommuting as an essential work option or as a job perk or as the fall of civilization, it is not okay for the debate about workplace flexibility to tilt so heavily on the CEO’s gender. We want more women in positions of power. We want women who’ve made the climb to have their decisions, choices and accomplishments evaluated on merit, but then we plaster the blogosphere and the 24-hour news cycle with Marissa Mayer’s blonde mugshot, mention how she only took two weeks of maternity leave (!!!) and scoff at her decision to punish other working mothers with a policy that everyone knows is a bad idea.
It really raises my blood pressure.
Every business owner, CEO and supervisor needs to decide how best to run their company. Yahoo! made the decision that they determined was best for them. We should evaluate their telework ban based on its impact to their business’s future health, not on whether we think the female CEO might be picking on the other mommies to prove that she can make it in the cutthroat world of corporate America.
You may not agree with the company’s decision to pursue this policy, but I think you should defend Marissa Mayer’s right to guide Yahoo! how she thinks is best and not subject her to an unequal level of scrutiny because she is a member of the Tribe of Double-X.