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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?