Michelle Gillett: Bigger picture of Mayer's decision



I suppose this is old news by now, but I keep thinking about Marissa Mayer and her decision to ban employees from working at home. Not so long ago, I would have jumped on the Mayer-bashing bandwagon, insisting that flexibility in the workplace is the only way women with young children can maintain their professional lives without stress. Telecommuting works for both men and women, allowing them to be productive workers while caring for families.

Mayer became president and CEO of Yahoo! on July 16, 2012, the youngest woman to ever lead a Fortune 500 company. She began the job when she was seven months pregnant, and took on the challenge of turning the troubled company around.


Yahoo! has been in trouble for a number of years, suffering from poor management, a workforce diminished by layoffs, plummeting stock prices, disgruntled stockholders. Mayer is the third CEO to be hired in 2012. At Google, where she previously worked, she was the first female engineer and helped the company create more than 100 products.

I can understand her decision to gather the tribe under one roof -- the campfire might go out if she doesn't.

The statement she issued communicating the change in employee rules stated:

"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."

But the part of me that might have easily joined the bashers, says -- we are not yet a country that supports women workers, we lack adequate childcare facilities and pay fairness. Working from home is a solution for any women who want and need to keep their careers. Studies prove that people who work from home are more productive and work more hours than office workers.

Of course, telecommuting is not an option for everyone. As Lisa Belkin wrote in the Huffington Post, "Every job can't be done remotely. I don't want my ER doctor to be working from home; my taxi driver is not of much value from there, either. Similarly, every worker is not inclined toward out-of-office work."

Marissa Mayer has some other plans for improving the workplace morale besides getting her workers side-by-side. The food in Yahoo's URLs Café in Silicon Valley will be free, she is planning major changes to the workspaces and buildings, everyone will get a smartphone. But aside from the perks and improvements, Mayer's logic makes sense.

In an article on Network World, Yoni Heisler included a bullet list of why Mayer's decision will benefit the beleaguered company:

* the kinds of work-from-home arrangements popular at Yahoo were not common to other Valley companies like Google or Facebook. "This is a collaborative business."

* Mayer saw another side-benefit to making this move. She knows that some remote workers won't want to start coming into the office and so they will quit. That helps Yahoo, which needs to cut costs. It's a layoff that's not a layoff.

Bigger picture: This is about Mayer "carefully getting to problems created by Yahoo's huge, bloated infrastructure. The company got fat and lazy over the past 15 years, and this is Mayer getting it into fighting shape."


It's easy to criticize women executives for being too tough, to assume they are not being nurturing. The bottom line is that bosses need to respect their workers, and there is no evidence that Mayer lacks trust in her employees because she wants them to collaborate more. I think we need to let Mayer do her job, and wish her well in saving Yahoo! from further demise instead of attacking her for being politically correct when there is so much to correct at Yahoo!

I don't know what Marissa Mayer's value system is but I do know that she is one of only 21 female CEOs listed in the Fortune 500 -- that's a mere four percent. I am not ready to make a call on her executive decisions.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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