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Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg: When Executive Women Keep Other Women Down

This week, two executive women made some pretty questionable business moves. These moves were not only baffling in their own right, but also stand to negatively impact women in the workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg -- Tell Us About Your Family Plans

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that we need a "much more open dialogue about gender" in the workplace, including "discussing with female employees whether they plan to have children." HOLD THE PHONE.

I was with her on the first part. I do think we need a more open dialogue about gender in the workplace. We need dialogue on creating family friendly workplaces and on ensuring that both men and women have the resources to be able to balance their family life with their career.

But discussing with "female employees about whether they plan to have children." No. The problem with asking women about their family plans is that:

  1. No one asks men about their family plans. It is assumed that whether he has children or not, he'll continue to be available as needed and be 100% focused on his job and his career. The assumption that only women would need to take time off, not be able to travel for work, and have to balance children's day care and doctor's appointments with work commitments, is discriminatory.
  2. People make assumptions about what womens' family plans will mean. They assume they'll take time off work, they assume it will be at least a year (in Canada, perhaps less elsewhere) and they assume that as a mother, her attention and focus will be divided.
  3. Even if we extended the conversation and said that we should ask all employees whether they plan to have children, we would be setting parents up to be discriminated against (e.g. passed over for promotions) compared with their child free counterparts.

In the Globe and Mail, Natalie MacDonald, a partner at Grosman, Grosman and Gale was quoted as saying:

Disclosure of a woman’s plan to have children at any time throughout the employment relationship, either during the hiring process or thereafter, could enable the employer to discriminate against her, by either terminating her employment, or treating her differently, both of which could have significantly negative repercussions for the woman.

This is already a problem for women who are on maternity leave in Canada, so it is safe to assume that it would be an even bigger issue at all times if women were being pressured into disclosing their family plans.

So yes, let's have a dialogue about gender in the workplace, but let's do it in a way that doesn't jeopardize the careers of individual employees. Let's do it in a way that tries to make the situation better and more equitable for everyone.

Marissa Mayer -- No More Working From Home

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer decided last week that Yahoo employees would no longer be allowed to work from home. People who currently work remotely would need to either start working in a Yahoo office or quit. According to one article, Mayer sees this as an easy way to get rid of unproductive staff without having to lay them off. A source close to Mayer said a large number of Yahoo employees work remotely, weren't productive, were essentially hiding at home, and no one really knew that they worked at Yahoo anymore.

As a past manager of a team and currently a consultant who works off site and hires subcontractors who work offsite, I am appalled. I'm not appalled at the so-called lazy employees. I'm appalled at the complete lack of management skills at Yahoo. If you can't tell whether your employees are productive or not if they aren't sitting in a cubicle a few feet away from you, that says a lot about your lacking managerial skills.

Apparently, to Ms. Mayer, I'm more valuable when I'm sitting in my car for two or more hours each day than I could be if I used that time to either work or to do other things that make me a more productive employee (like relaxing, exercising or preparing healthy food).

I could go on and on about the many benefits of having a flexible policy with regards to work location. People save time (no need to commute), save the environment (less pollution), can be home when their kids get off the school bus in the afternoon, and more. Flexible work hours (a different, but related issue) can allow people to work at the time of day when they are most productive, to avoid sitting in traffic at peak hours, to be at important events in their families lives, and more. Flexible work location and flexible work hours give people quality of life. It can help talented people who might not otherwise be able to take a job to take it. It can help people be happier and more productive in their jobs.

Take, for example, a Yahoo employee who is currently working from home, has a daycare five minutes from the house, and an ailing parent that they need to drive to a doctor's appointment once per week. That person could easily put in 40 hours of work or more each week. But add a one hour commute on either side of that, with a day care that is only open from 7:30am to 5:00pm, and the need to take one afternoon off per week to take care of the parent's doctor's appointment, and suddenly that person can only put in 31 hours at the office.

Managers and executives need to learn to evaluate someone's performance and worth to the organization based on the work that they complete, not based on having a bum in a chair in plain view of the manager. Maybe it's just me, but a technology company that insists collaboration can only happen in person is an obsolete technology company.

What do you think about Mayer and Sandberg's positions on these issues?

« Gender According to Google | Main | Choice -- We're Doing It Wrong »

Reader Comments (60)

I agree with you, 100%, but what did we expect from a woman who thinks that two weeks maternity leave is sufficient?

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkarengreeners

What she thinks is sufficient for herself is different, to me, than what she thinks is appropriate for everyone. I've often said that I could easily have worked full time for the first 6 months of my daughter's life if I hadn't had my toddler son to take care of at the same time. All she did was sleep and nurse. With my son, there is no way I could have done that (purple crying, feeding issues, never slept, etc.).

What I would expect from someone like Mayer is a recognition that not every woman, every man, every family, and every baby is the same. People need flexibility and people will thrive and perform better if you create conditions that allow them to work in a way that suits their needs.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

This kind of narrow, stereotypical thinking is both limiting and counterproductive. It puzzles my why companies and employers seem unable to structure business with an aim to optimizing conditions so that employee productivity and retention are maximized. Why not make it as easy as possible for workers -- and thus your company -- to be successful?

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam @writewrds

Both of these moves seem so much like posturing to fit the expectations of male corporate culture to me, and completely absurd. Just two more examples of short-sighted moves that continue the oppression of their predecessors. They just seem that much MORE insulting because they come from intelligent successful women.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMama Melch

The stuff Sandberg is talking about already happens to some extent. When my husband was briefly working at a cutthroat corporate lawfirm in the US, one of his colleagues, a married 30-something year old woman, was called in for an evaluation in which the firm's managing partner essentially told her "You're doing great, and if you'd like to have a baby sometime soon, it's ok with us." Aside from all the problems you mentioned, that kind of interaction reflects corporate America's tendency to see employees as essentially the property of their company. Otherwise why would a decision that personal be any of the company's business?

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

My reaction to the issue at Yahoo! was exactly the same. If you don't know whether your employees are productive, what does that say about you as a manager? Have you not set up your evaluation procedures to be measurable? Are managers not having day-to-day contact, either by phone or email or messaging (pretty sure Yahoo! has a messenger service :P )? Some employees will take advantage of an at-home arrangement. If they cannot BE managed, then THEY should maybe be in the office (the individual who worked for me who told me he couldn't do some last minute QA work because he "had planned to go for a bike ride" was a candidate for that!) but again, ask yourself whether you're managing appropriately.

As for the first issue, so ridiculous I cannot even address it. For shame.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

Oh GAWD, this makes steam come out my ears. Thank you for addressing it, Annie!

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

I completely agree with you Annie.

I was SO disappointed when I read these pieces - other companies will take their cues from these two. It doesn't bode well for those of us who want to have a career and a life.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChantal

I am really shocked that someone at a technology company would think everyone needs to be in the same office to work. At schools today the push is for more and more to be done online, and we are asked to teach students how to collaborate through shared documents (like google docs/drive) and the like so they can work together from home. Interesting to me that a ninth grader can be expected to do this, but a Yahoo employee can't!

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

You're right, Yahoo is obsolete. You're good on the other stuff too.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterClaire

I don't mean to cause a rift here or anything, but this statement in your piece: "they assume that as a mother, her attention and focus will be divided" has me a bit concerned.

I can't imagine a woman who has become a mother would not have her attention and focus divided, whether she goes back to work or stays home and devotes herself to family life. To suggest otherwise makes me think, cringingly, of the women who have vowed never to let their children change their lives. That's so sad for the kids!

In my opinion, once we have children they need to become a primary focus, if not THE primary focus in our lives, at least until they have grown old enough to individuate and become independent at a natural pace (not the accelerated pace Western society pushes). Not that we can't pursue a vocation or other avocations, but the kids' needs are of paramount importance.

It seems that maybe the point you intended was that, while mothers' attention and focus might be divided, they are certainly more than capable of multi-tasking and giving an extremely capable effort in spite of being stretched between more than one priority, if need be. Am I missing something?

(This coming from a SAHM who has always preferred to keep her children and husband as her highest priorities--I personally would not have excelled at having to juggle my kids' best interests with my employer's/job's best interests. Thankfully my family I have been privileged to make things work to avoid that challenge.)

Other than this quibble, I appreciated reading your thoughts here. Thanks for sticking up for what's right and decrying what's wrong in society.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKari Aist


My point is that they assume a mother's attention will be divided in a way that compromises her ability to get her work done. They assume it will be divided in a way that is different than a father's attention would be divided or anyone else's attention would be divided between their personal life and their work life.

Let me try altering one of your paragraphs and see if it sounds the same:

"I can't imagine a man who has become a father would not have his attention and focus divided, whether he goes back to work or stays home and devotes himself to family life. To suggest otherwise makes me think, cringingly, of the men who have vowed never to let their children change their lives. That's so sad for the kids! "

Would you say that too?

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I was very open with my employer about plans for having children. It worked to my benefit, as I was able to move across the country, and I can change my work hours, as needed. It also allowed for my managers to plan work loads accordingly. I've basically been alternating years with my backup on having babies. So the dialogue doesn't always have a negative result.

The work at home issue has everything to do with poor management of underperforming employees and not with working at home itself. I've proven to be more productive at home over the past 5+ years.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAshley


I guess part of the issue is knowing how your manager is likely to react before you say anything. If Marissa Mayer had been your boss, things may not have worked out as well!

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I get your point, Annie, and I think I was saying what you were saying, but to address your reply...

In an ideal world, yes I would like to be able to say that, too, about fathers as well as mothers, so yes. Things would be wonderful if more fathers fit that bill.

I recognize, though, that our world is not ideal, and the best we can hope for is that one parent would have the kids as her *or his* top priority. It's the best interests of the kids that I have in mind.

I have heard things that made me cringe when substituting one gender for another in a piece of writing; in this instance I didn't cringe--and I was trying to be objective, though I had written the words in question.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKari Aist

Ms. Mayers elimination of telecommuting is ludicrous coming from a tech company. To me it screams that she's a control freak and she doesn't trust that her managers can do a good enough job management remote employees. Really disappointing to see this. I hope that other companies do not follow.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly Patterson

"I recognize, though, that our world is not ideal, and the best we can hope for is that one parent would have the kids as her *or his* top priority. It's the best interests of the kids that I have in mind."

I agree, Kari.

I think that employers need to assume that both parents will have their child as the top priority. That means understanding that yes, women may sometimes have to miss work for things relating to their children, but men will/should too.

Until this January, I never had to miss a day of work because of a sick child because my partner was a stay-at-home dad. It doesn't mean that my children weren't my top priority, it just means that I know they were well cared for by their father.

Now that we are both working full time, and both have the children's needs as our top priority, we need to juggle a bit if one of our kids is sick. We also need to coordinate work travel schedules, children's activities, our own personal activities, and more.

But I would never want an employer or client of mine to assume that I couldn't take something on because I'm a mom. They would never make that assumption about a dad.

I guess I want employers to concurrently trust families to make their own arrangements in a way that won't impact their ability to get the work done, while also creating an environment that gives employees the flexibility to create those arrangements.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

While I agree that family should NEVER be reason for discrimination, I also sense that our insentience on "hiding" pregnancy plans is exactly because there is rampant discrimination. I don't want to hide my family plans, same as someone of different skin colour can not hide that fact. The move toward the family-friendly is what needs to be supported. More along the lines of equality and measurable contribution, not buts-in-chairs and attention-grabbing-overtime.

Media is over-blowing the examples of two executives (that happen to be females), setting reference point for everybody else. Not that these kind of executive decisions were not already done, in 1000s by other male representatives and nobody writing a word. I agree that having same done by people everybody expects to have first-hand view of current struggle between parenthood and demands of modern workplace makes the move worse than otherwise. But at the same time, singling out "executive women" as shining examples of wronging family-friendly-workplace also comes from same prejudice that "mothers" should "get it" better than their male counterparts and should be able to rise above corporate culture that we are all feeding into. We should raise same ruckus for males doing same - and start asking question to all executives (males included): "where were YOU for your family?"

We all have to be painfully aware that as much as we have laws protecting rightful employment and decency in workplace, in any "though" economic times the simple fact that there are 100s if not 1000s vying for your job does lead to predatory behaviour by companies. Company firing someone looks to spending about 20K in re-hire costs, while person fired looks at potential of no meal until next job. It is not level-playing field, and until we get out of the slavery-by choice and into companies-appreciating-workforce, every minority (parents, different colour, immigrants, anything) are going to be on "chopping-block". We need equal, just workplace, and that should include parents shaping next generation of workers into the world. For that we need both targeted regulation and cultural shift. Parents are not slackers, and no, parenting and career advancement should not be on collision course. Nobody should be forced to accept corporate culture from '50 (minus the security and benefits and pension and social safety net) and be expected to bring up modern family.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarija

This is so sad, I agree with pretty much everything you've said and so don't have much to add. My husband currently works from home--he has no contact with the people in the local office of his employer, everyone he works with is elsewhere, so he communicates by phone/email anyway. To think he'd be more productive after an hour plus commute each way, to get to an office where he can't do anything he can't do here, is ridiculous. In fact we sometimes argue about him NOT being able to stop working :P

Sadly, I know some smaller businesses who do not even hire women of a certain age because they assume they will have babies and take leave. Total discrimination, but if they can hire a qualified man or a woman who appears past childbearing age, who would ever be able to prove it?

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea


I'll admit I'm more surprised to hear these comments/decisions coming from women, but I would be just as critical (if not more critical) of them if they came from men.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

So many great comments! I have to admit, it did not bother me that she said she was going to take just 2 weeks of maternity leave. I had a pretty easy time with my baby and could see it, especially if one was able to work from home. I didn't see it as an insult or precedent setting for others. But the new move of banning working from home is a bad move, in my opinion. There have been studies showing the benefits of teleworking to productivity—and if these people are supposed to be working well beyond the 8 hour day or need to be able to work when inspiration and creativity strike, I just don't see how the "being in the office" rule is helpful.

I also really appreciate the idea about divided attention (mother or father) and that employers really need to face the fact that it is normal and appropriate for people's attention to be divided. We're not robots that are existing for work purposes only. It's infuriating, though I have to say I have never had the misfortune of working for people who did not give appropriate flexibility for personal things.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Powers

I'll comment about working from home. Yahoo is a company that has been through crazy ups and downs over the years and there is a bunch of dead weight. I have worked in Fortune 100 companies and there is tons of dead weight and bad managers throughout. The CEO can't know even a small percentage of the people, and so someone probably saw that remote workers were much more likely to be unproductive ... you can imagine how awesome that opportunity would be for someone who was just a little lazy. I think you're reading too much into it. It might still be a bad decision, but they're obviously not after their top employees, they're after the dead wood.

Asking women (or even all people) about family plans as a policy does seem wrong. I can't see any reason that information is required except to discriminate on hiring. It is totally reasonable, though, that the company does need to plan for staff being off for long periods like a maternity leave.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex | Perfecting Dad

It's actually illegal in the US to discuss with female employees whether they plan to have children. Pregnancy is considered a "temporary disability" when it interferes with work (e.g., maternity leave) and is therefore covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act; it's also considered gender-based discrimination even to *ask* if a female worker is pregnant or plans to become pregnant.

I mean, Sandberg's assumptions are stupid anyway, but the actions she's advocating are well-established as illegal in the country in which she's working, and not just some HR department nervousness, like she implies.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterocchiblu

What riles me up more than anything is the columns like these, or more precisely, the fact that media of any kind thinks it sort of writing will garner attention and positive reaction. Poor companies!


...For companies that have an especially hard time replacing staff on leave, there can be an inclination, as the Alberta survey suggested, to simply avoid hiring young women or, worse, to fire them before their maternity leave kicks in. No boss would dare admit it but, says lawyer Lublin, “that’s just the reality of it. I’m tied up in litigation all day with companies saying they let someone go because they were restructuring or there were performance concerns, while the employee says it was because she was pregnant.”

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarija

I'm responding to the first post from Kari Aist, more particularly this comment: "In my opinion, once we have children they need to become a primary focus, if not THE primary focus in our lives."
In some families, Kari, a mother's choice to work is about the children being the primary focus of her life. It's about doing whatever it takes to ensure their needs are met and their well-being is the first priority.
In some families, a mother's employment is about keeping a decent roof over their heads, ensuring nutritious foods going into their mouths and enabling them to have life opportunities.
And women do it all the time.
Workers work for a reason. When the workplace -- especially high-profile female employers -- can recognize the benefits of facilitating productivity instead of forcing people to punch a time clock, everybody stands to benefit, including the kids at home.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam @writewrds

So I'm not going to comment on the Sheryl Sandberg part. Nor am I going to disagree fully with this post. What I would like to gently posit is a perspective about Mayer pulling the plug on working from home. As someone who has been a remote worker (and independent consultant working from home) for the better part of the last 13 years, I can concur with the "I'm more productive sitting in my car for two hours than many are at the office in a full day" thinking. Not everyone, however, is productive working from home. In fact, most people aren't - especially those who aren't independent workers but part of bigger teams. If I had a nickel for every time someone would say, "Yes, I'm 'working from home (insert air quotes)' today" ... and then grin as they sipped a latte in the cafe and read a book, well, I wouldn't have to work from home or anywhere else. Whenever I've worked at a company - one that isn't entirely based on remote workers at least - I've considered working from home a privilege. One that I don't take for granted. And as we all know when people abuse privileges they can be taken away ... perhaps that's what we're seeing here?

Again, I don't say this to discredit working from home overall nor am I saying that this was a good or bad idea ... merely suggesting that we aren't in the Board meetings, we haven't seen the productivity numbers and perhaps there *is* a business reason she did this.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Brooks

I'm grinding my teeth now. Especially about the Yahoo woman who took 2 weeks of maternity leave. WHAT?!!?!? I'm livid over this. Thanks for bringing it into the light.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentererin margolin


I agree that it is a privilege. Having a job at all is a privilege.

I just think it is shortsighted and shows poor management skills to have an across the board policy that no one can work from home. If someone isn't meeting their goals, getting their work done on time, or being available when needed, by all means haul them in or fire them. But not knowing whether people are productive or not is poor management.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

Hi Annie - thanks for writing about this issue! What a mess our world is in when 30 years after the feminist movement began, we have such backward remarks coming from women executives! Where is the conversation about the reality that people have families, want to care for their families and need/want to work? If top women executives won't discuss work-life balance, then who's supposed to be the front-line thinkers on this? Work-life balance was ignored by early feminists, it's time we bring the basic experiences of women to the table, pregnancy, birth postpartum & parenting. I discuss this in my video Why I Do What I Do.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

Interesting that "privilege" of working remotely is spelled out as "privilege" only to direct employees - while the company as a whole has off-shore workforce.
Failure to "know" if your employees are not performing is direct pointer that "slacking' by employees is not the culprit, it is very, very poor management. If they can't account for their direct employees, what does that show about management engagement or performance? We seem to be falling back to usual conclusion that employee laziness is behind any lack of productivity, how about horrendous management?

I still think that in this day and age (especially with companies like Y! and Fecebook, for crying out loud), insisting on "butt-in-chair" mentality is just feeding '50 perspective of women's place is at home with kids. And any that did wanted career would have to make sure kids are never her primary focus. Or elderly parents. Or sick relatives.
Have we replaced feudal nobles with corporations? Do we belong to workplace before we belong to our families and communities? Is earning livelihood really a privilege? Do we say that women should only work when that is the requirement for providing for their offspring - no working because of what women can contribute to company and because she is enjoying it? Does the parenthood and working HAVE to be such a juggle that we are constantly afraid never to do even a mediocre job at both? As much as these kind of corporate policies are infuriating, we also have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and ask simple question: how much of this we are pre-conditioned to believe because male-dominated (often family-disengaged male that does not go to ballet recitals and spring concerts or PTAs, the same one that comprises significant portion of middle-management at Y!) corporate world has been saying so?

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarija

"Does the parenthood and working HAVE to be such a juggle that we are constantly afraid never to do even a mediocre job at both?"

That is a fabulous question, Marija.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I heard a (female) CNN reporter say of Marissa Mayer's 2 week mat leave: "Setting the standard for us all." I'm working as a college instructor part time while on my (Canadian) mat leave with my (breastfed) twins, so I'm not lazily clinging to "time off"...but I was pretty shocked and dismayed to hear the attitude that short mat leave is "impressive."

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErica

Its funny because I was going to write a blog post on how career outliers like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg won't let the rest of us working moms be great. These women because of their privilege have turned motherhood/work-life balance into competitive sports on who can take the least amount of vacation when the rest of us are fighting for maternity leave on the federal level (at least), and equal paternity leave so our husbands can stay with us and newborn for a little while. I am sick of these two honestly!

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBlessing @ WorkingMomJournal

I couldn't agree with you more ... on both accounts. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home 1 to 2 days a week. Those days are generally my most productive, and I do save about 3.5 hours in commute time. As a manager, you need to evaluate if someone has the right position and disposition to work from home. If the answer is yes, this is a great incentive to motivate productive workers. With technology improving every day, we need to be seeking more innovative ways to work, rather than chaining our people to their cubicles.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

Wow! I am honestly shocked by these statements. Truly.
In Canada, it is actually against the law to ask a woman about their plans to have children. It's call discrimination. This is a very personal decision that shouldn't include your employer (at least not in this fashion). I am seriously shaking my head right now.

And for the telecommuting, I agree with you 100% on the reasons why working at home is good for you and the company. The bottom line is that it's much cheaper (and leaner) for a company to allow people to work at home. Less space/furniture, etc. This seems so backwards and silly. There is a much bigger issue with this, obviously? Sounds more like a culture, management issue more than anything.

Also, I ended up consulting three weeks after my last daughter was born. It was the best decision for my family and I was able to work from home when I could fit it in. Is this really worth judging her merit as a leader on? There are so many other pieces to take out of these statements.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen Banks

Yes, I do find my online clients are surprised i work with two children under two at home and find my multi tasking skills really useful.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDee

Although I do not agree with how the Yahoo CEO went about "banning working from home" (seems very harsh) - there are so many careers where that is not an option to begin with. There are many careers where working from home is not an option, ever (mine included). Kind of sucks, but what can you do?

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

When I first told my husband about the Yahoo news, his initial response was, "Are they prepping for layoffs and wanted to try to get people to quit first so it's cheaper?" I agree with you, this seems short-sighted and I think will lose Yahoo a lot of good employees who want/require that flexibility.

Unfortunately as for Sandberg wanting to discuss family plans with female employees, in a lot of Europe (including Switzerland, if I remember correctly) it's pretty much common practice to ask women about their martial and family plans in job interviews. That expectation of personal privacy isn't expected as it is here.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

I agree, Rebecca. It isn't always possible. Obviously, you can't serve someone a coffee unless you're right there. You can't put out a house fire remotely. You can't give someone a massage over the Internet.

But I think a lot of people choose their careers, their jobs, the location of their home, and so on based on the conditions within their career. Changing people's work location and conditions from one day to the next, especially without good reason, seems harsh, inappropriate and short sighted.

They may get rid of some slackers, but I'm sure they'll lose some top performers too.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

As someone who by necessity had to work from home with a 2-week old, I find Mayer's decision shocking. So women with newborns must go into work after six weeks? Or two weeks in her case. Lovely.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Great post! Unfortunately US employers are not known for family friendly and worker friendly policies, but it would be nice to expect better from female management! FYI, I'm in Australia.

I am hanging out to work from home again. Our small office is closing in May as all 3 employees are happy to work from home, and out head office (in another state) is happy with that... they are used to us being remote, doesn't matter to them whether we are at home or at the office. I only see my workmates in person once a year when we go interstate for Christmas lunch! :)

I only spend 40 - 60 minutes a day commuting, but as a carer with a Stay At Home Dad who's unwell and not up to running the kids around, or even himself, this means I can increase my hours which I have had to drop due to my caring responsibilities. It wasn't nice taking a 12.5% paycut 4 years ago when I dropped from 40 hours to 35 hours a week. I'm looking forward to the extra $$$ in my pocket when I can work an extra 2.5 - 5h a week :)

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSapphyre

Actually, it's pretty common that it is women blowing up family friendly policies at work. Whether they claim things like flex work just puts women on a discriminatory Mommy Track or they resent women who "take advantage" of generous company policies and then surprise quit--little enrages working women, especially those without children, more than quitting after taking full leave--is just details. Mayer probably thinks she needs to prove that mothers can hack it just like the men, so no helpful policies allowed. Of course she has one 4 month old, so she still has much to learn about merging career and motherhood.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAHLondon

As a former Silicon Valley female executive with 20+ years of management experience, I'm frankly appalled at the comments/actions of these two women. They are reckless and arrogant in my opinion, seem to be lacking thoughtful management skills, and also appear to have lost a certain level of basic humanity....which unfortunately, I've seen all too often in the relentless pace and unrealistic expectations of technology companies. Women moving women backwards lacking insight and depth who are insecure and who somehow in 2013, still feel compelled to compete with men in the workplace and to prove themselves at super human levels-i.e. 2 week mat leave. They're moving in the exact opposite direction that we as a country/ workforce need to move: lets teach better management skills and the ability to recognize and acknowledge top level employees and have the strength and conviction to discipline the ones who aren't willing and able to do the work. Let's support families (with both or one parents) in the workplace who struggle day to day trying to balance their work and family life. If you treat people fairly, communicate and set clear expectations and manage with real skill, the workplace will always run much more smoothly and with far fewer issues that require such drastic action as Marissa Mayers directive at Yahoo.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBellaSC

Firstly, your headline is ill-considered link bait.

Secondly, you're taking both of these things out of context.

If you pay attention to Sheryl Sandberg's wider message, she's not suggesting employers question potential (or current) employees about their intention to have a family or take maternity leave. She's suggested that *women who have handled this successfully* speak up and mentor other women on how it is possible. In her initial TEDWomen talk on this entire topic, she mentions a young female employee who came to her for advice and mentioned that she wasn't really pursuing promotion or bigger roles because she was thinking she'd like to have children--but she wasn't even in a relationship yet! Ms. Sandberg encourages women to 'lean in' and make the most of their careers while they can. Once you have children, leaving them is tough and you really want to have a job worth going back to.

As for Marissa Mayer: The remote working culture at Yahoo! is seriously flawed, and many Yahoos (and even ex-Yahoos) have come forward since this whole firestorm started to agree with her. I myself work remotely, so I'm sensitive to the idea that her memo might make this less available to me as an option, but tales of entitlement and abuse of this at Yahoo are legend. The thought is that anyone who isn't really interested in working for the company will likely quit, and those who DO want to stay and are willing to show loyalty will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Ms. Mayer is a shrewd executive and a very smart lady and she's been tasked with a massive job. Yahoo is a mess, and she has a big job ahead of her to turn it around. Calling for 'all hands on deck' isn't unreasonable.

I'm honestly really tired of women attacking other women and not bothering to hear their greater message. As Kara Swisher from AllThingsD pointed out today: "Lots of high-profile male execs have done this without the same level of anger directed at them." I'd highly suggest you read Kara's post: http://allthingsd.com/20130224/old-media-doesnt-get-new-media-chapter-203-the-sheryl-sandberg-attack/ Why don't we start celebrating women who are successful career-wise and as parents? Tearing each other down does no one any favours.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLynne

I'm not going to comment on Sandberg's comments, because like @Lynne, I think there is more going on there than you summarize. I have concerns about some of what she says, but think other parts of what she says are pretty astute. Fully going into all of that is more than I have time for this morning.

But I have two things to say about the Yahoo situation:

1. I don't give a rat's ass what she did with her maternity leave. I refused to judge her for that, because I think different things work for different women, and what someone who is just starting a CEO job needs to do is fairly different from what someone in a more average job needs to do. I said at the time that I would judge her on her actions as CEO.

2. And this decision as CEO sucks. I understand the reasons, but if they had a problem with the productivity of SOME remote employees they should have addressed it with those employees. I've managed remote employees, and it takes some different management skills. But people in the office can slack off, too. The way you keep people productive is to give them interesting and meaningful work, and make sure that they feel empowered to make a difference. Counting hours and face time just doesn't work, and is counterproductive.

However, I have to point out- from what I understand, Google does not embrace working from home, either. Google's famously "stay here at the office, we'll make you dinner" culture may, in fact, be informing Mayer's decision here.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCloud

I have to agree with Cloud (above comment) on both points. I have friends that work in Silicon Valley and remote working isn't very popular at Apple, Google and Facebook. All for various reasons.

Yahoo's remote workers are/were agents of the past. That's not to say remote working doesn't work at other companies and can be beneficial to when the right people are involved.

Does this decision set women and mothers back? Yes. Should it? No. This is one of those things where I don't have the answer. I had to quit my job after I had kids because I knew the kind of work I had to do required me to always be in the office. I knew this when I started working and that in the future I would have to recalculate my career path.

I have to say that the hateful comments on her mat leave is ridiculous. In fact, it really bothers me. It takes all kinds to make a family. I have read that Mayer's partner was equally involved. Certainly he isn't the first man to take mat leave instead of the woman. And really, don't tell me a mother is needed more in the early days, because there many families out there where a mother may not be involved. I have two male friends who are raising a bright and beautiful boy. They split the mat leave. I wish people would realize that.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKrista

This is an interesting piece on Mayer paying to have a nursery set up at Yahoo offices for her baby. I wonder if she will offer / does offer child care to other employees who now have to come to work? http://www.businessinsider.com/marissa-mayer-who-just-banned-working-from-home-paid-to-have-a-nursery-built-at-her-office-2013-2?0=sai

February 26, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

Interestingly, I just found out my book club will be reading Sandberg's book "Lean In" for our next discussion. I look forward to reading it. I do think that there is a role for mentors in the workplace who have successfully combined careers and families (both women and men). I just think that mentoring has to take place without a woman's superiors specifically asking her about child bearing / child rearing plans.

February 26, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I have mixed feelings about Mayer's comments. I'm not a big fan of Mayer, based on some of her previous comments. (As a mom who suffered through months of colic, health issues with my son, no household help, and very little support, anyone who has the audacity -- considering the level of privilege that she enjoys -- to say, ""The baby's been way easier than everyone made it out to be" should be forced to spend a day in the life of an average mom.) But, in any case, I had a terrible experience working from home. In several months of working on my dissertation from home with an infant, I got nothing accomplished. I was simply unable to focus on high-level writing or research for any extended amount of time, and I was too exhausted by the time my husband got home at night to do much of anything. When my son started preschool part-time, I could focus on just my work for hours of the day and got more accomplished in two weeks than I had in a year. There's a lot of good brain research that finds that when your mind is trying to do two things at once -- taking care of a baby or getting work done -- you may end up doing neither very well. That was my experience, but that's absolutely no excuse for the kind of one-size-fits-all policy that Mayer has enacted.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Smock


I'm not suggesting that people should be working from home full-time for Yahoo while also trying to take care of a baby full-time at home. I think I made a note somewhere above in the comments that I think I could have done that with my second child, but I wasn't suggesting that is what anyone should be doing or that it is something Yahoo should necessarily be supporting.

I was thinking more of situations where someone may have a day care five minutes from their home and wouldn't have time to add hours of commuting into their day. Or situations where a breastfeeding mom has a nanny or family member taking care of the baby while she works, but wants to be able to nurse the baby on her breaks. Or situations where a parent needs to be there to meet the school bus when the kids get home at the end of the day.

There are plenty of reasons why spending hours commuting isn't feasible for many families.

February 26, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

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