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Marissa Mayer backlash: Much ado about nothing?

February 28, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
(Peter Kramer / Associated…)

One season, Marissa Mayer is a modern-day feminist icon giving hope to women who want to climb to the top while also having a family. Another season, she’s the worst thing to have happened to the women’s liberation movement.

Much has been made this week about the Yahoo CEO’s decision to ban telecommuting. (As though reporting to the office were such an outrageous demand.) Part of the memo from HR read:

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. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Personally, I’ve always believed in a “united we stand, divided we fall” mentality. Whether working side by side is the answer to fostering unity is up for debate. Still, if I were an employee at Yahoo, I’d probably be grateful to a CEO who was trying to reinvigorate a company by encouraging her employees to be part of the innovation process.

Opponents have criticized Mayer, calling her decision regressive, anti-family and a punishment to working moms. Critics have explained the benefits of telecommuting, mocking the tech company for taking a giant step backward. And opinionators have complained that not all working moms have the luxury of building a nursery next to their office so that they can be close to their children.

You’d think Mayer had mandated that employees start living at Yahoo and sleeping under their desks.

Never mind that the Atlantic’s Rebecca Greenfield tried to calm down the masses with this post: “Chill Out, Marissa Mayer Work-at-Home Memo's Not About You.” People haven’t been able to stop debating the many issues that Mayer’s edict sparked.  

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd writes that Mayer should show some sensitivity:  

The dictatorial decree to work “side by side” had some dubbing Mayer not “the Steinem of Silicon Valley” but “the Stalin of Silicon Valley.” […]

She seems to believe that enough employees are goofing off at home that she should bring them off the cloud and into the cubicle. But she should also be sympathetic to the very different situation of women -- and men -- struggling without luxurious layers of help.

Mayer has a nursery next to the executive suite. But not everyone has it so sweet.

Writing about both Mayer and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s impact on working moms, Joanne Bamberger laments:

Both Mayer and Sandberg are overlooking the forest for the trees. The amount of household help they can afford to manage their family lives isn't a reality for the vast majority of women and never will be. […]

With the launch of Sandberg's "Lean In" effort and Mayer's office-work only proclamation, two things are apparent: Both have forgotten about the women who came before, enabling them to land in their lofty positions in the first place.

And the duo don't want to extend the same hand to anyone else. Instead, they've launched the latest salvo in the war on moms.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus criticizes Mayer going retro in two ways:  

How ironic that a technology company, dedicated to enabling connectivity, would enforce such a retrograde, back-to-the-assembly-line edict. It reflect a bricks-and-mortar mindset in an increasingly cyber world. How depressing that this edict comes from a female CEO, albeit a seemingly bionic one. You have to wonder whether this is Mayer demonstrating that she is as tough -- or as boneheaded -- as any guy.

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