Monday, March 11, 2013

It's hard to be a female CEO

          There have been a lot of headlines recently about Marissa Mayer’s choice to herd back the telecommuting crowd at Yahoo.  The blogosphere has been inundated with lots of backlash about the lack of family-friendliness in her decision. Snarky comments from lots of mommy bloggers about how as a female CEO with an infant, Ms. Mayer should be more forgiving to her fellow employees.  And while it is a bit ironic that she should draw such a hard line on working from home, since she’s apparently built a nursery next to her office (obviously she is craving some work-personal life balance of her own), I don’t fault her for her decision. 
            Yes, I really said that. Now you all know by now I am dyed-in-the-wool feminist (even though that has become a dirty word), a telecommuting, work-from-my-neighborhood-café type of work-at-home mama.  I’m all about job flexibility. I’ve written some posts about this.  But I am also a pragmatist.  Marissa Mayer wasn’t hired to make Yahoo family-friendly.  She was hired to turn the ailing internet giant around from impending collapse. Some women commentators have further noted that she should set a “better example” for the rest of us—that by taking two weeks off for maternity leave, having the gumption to say on national TV that motherhood was “easier than I expected,” and now banning telecommuting--she's giving terrible messages to the rest of us working ladies out there, setting impossibly high standards for anyone to be compared to, and ultimately destroying the cause of feminism. 
            Well…maybe. Yes, personally, I do think that she took a pretty measly maternity leave. Two weeks post-partum, our life was a big hot mess—and even after the typical American three months of maternity leave, we were barely getting by as a family.  I do think families need more parental leave than what the US currently guarantees by law, which is paltry...and unpaid.  I also haven’t experienced motherhood as easier than I expected....almost ever. But in truth, I also haven’t been grilled on my personal life, my every choice scrutinized and commented upon in the media. I mean, people were pissed off that she showed up on the cover of Forbes not pregnant (given the choice between the normal me and the round-as-a-globe-me, I would too, if I had such an opportunity!). Also, for the record, she never said motherhood was “easy,” or even came close to commenting that the rest of us should stop our complaining about motherhood.  And as far as telecommuting, I do think you can be successful, depending on the job you’ve been hired to do. I have made it work, and to my own surprise, I have been rewarded with promotions during the years I’ve been more “out of the office” than in.
            But (there is a big BUT coming) though I personally disagree with some of her decisions, I respect her choices and applaud her ability to lead her life and career the way she wants, just as I want to lead mine. In this case, as in others, women are the harshest critics…of each other. And honestly, that's how we undermine ourselves.  I bet you if she had taken six months off for maternity leave, we'd be all up in arms that she wasn't showing up for the job.  If she had said motherhood was harder than she ever imagined, we might feel smug ("Ahh, Marissa, we told you so!").  As for the idea that she should be a good “role model” and advocate for working women everywhere—she didn’t sign up for that particular PR job.  She signed up to be the CEO of Yahoo, and she certainly has had to make some tough choices along the way.  It's too bad she felt she had to take a fortnight of paternal leave. That sounds exhausting.  It's too bad that some sense of family-friendliness at Yahoo had to go (though some have speculated the telecommuting decision was actually aimed at some MIA employees running their own start-ups on the side).
            Whatever the case may be, I truly believe that by her example as a successful female CEO, by doing her job well, she'll ultimately further the cause.  Actions speak louder than words. She's already given me hope, because she was chosen to lead Yahoo even after she disclosed to her board of directors she was pregnant (when she didn't have to, BTW).  It makes me think of how many are disgruntled that our president isn’t doing enough for minority issues during his presidency.  Maybe he could do more. But the simple fact that he is the first African American president breaks down some landmark barriers.  We can't expect one person to change the world in one brushstroke.
            Do I wish Marissa Mayer did more for "the cause"? Certainly.  And maybe she will. Or maybe she won't.  Either way, I won’t fault her for doing her job to the best of her ability or living her life the way she wants.  Ladies, let’s lay off the griping and give her the same respect and credit we’d like others to give us for our choices. That we have been actively debating these issues of parental leave, motherhood, and work-life balance is amazing. These discussions are the kind we should have as women, as families, and as a nation.  That's when the real change happens.  

(Now don't get me started on Sheryl Sandberg...just give me a chance to read her book Lean In, first).

1 comment:

  1. When Yahoo CEO Marissa mayer banned working from home in February, outrage followed. Yet when Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly, a middle-aged man, made a similar decision in March, there was barely a whimper. Both are new CEOs trying to turn around struggling companies, so what explains the different reactions? A double standard rooted in desperation. Marissa Mayer’s HR decisions at Yahoo show change won’t come from the top.