Marissa Mayer: Thinking Like A Man

Marissa Mayer is taking it on the chin, again.

In a recently leaked memo detailing how telecommuting is now verboten over at Yahoo, the embattled Chief Executive Officer found herself on the podium of vilification.

Both mainstream and social media erupted in simultaneous horror. “How could she?” “What does this say about her as a parent or even as a woman?”

Wake up and smell the coffee people. This is a woman who is a CEO. And therein lies the contradiction.

The point that is most worrisome is the prevailing thinking that as a female CEO, you need to stand on the feminist soapbox while being a hard-headed business leader. Sometimes you just can’t do both.

Mayer has made her point very clearly: she’s not going to be the “mommy CEO.” She’s not going to make an early mark by extending favorable policies to women and to parents. She needs to quickly show how she’s going to save an ailing and bloated company. And yet, many of us can’t get our heads around that when her thinking flies in the face of perspectives we feel she should uphold.

According to a recent article in Business Insider, Yahoo! is full of people who telecommute – some who haven’t stepped foot inside the mothership for years. Yet, they are reaping the benefits, the pay checks, and the free iPhone, while the company has lagged behind its most fierce competitors.

Sure there will be people who don’t like this decision; and they will leave. Clearly, that’s exactly what Mayer hopes will happen, which will be a huge boost to the bottom line.

Which is why she was hired in the first place. The decision to make Mayer the new face of feminism was ours, not hers.

Yet, since her hiring, women have not been kind to Mayer. Not when she refused to appear pregnant on the cover of Fortune magazine, not when she crowd-sourced her baby’s name and not when she declared that taking care of her baby was “easy.”

Let’s look at it from a business perspective: she needs to prove herself to her company, to her board, to the stock market and to the business world at large. She needs to make quick wins within the company, help it grow and make it profitable. There’s little room for mommy empathy in any of that.

There is no doubt this woman has steely resolve. She will let this current anger burn hot and subside, then get on with the job she was hired to do.

Maybe, just maybe, Mayer has a grander plan. Once she has the credibility of saving a company and winning the respect of Wall Street, she will have the potential of standing on an even grander soapbox for carving out family friendly policies. Policies that even the old boys will have to take into consideration.

So, let’s not accuse of her of not breaking through the glass ceiling. She’s actually starting to smash it bit by bit.

Guest contributor PR consultant Elissa Freeman brings more than 25 years of communications experience to the pages of The Broad Side. Named one of Twitters Top 52 PR pros and Top 75 Badass Females, the Toronto, Canada-based Freeman is also a contributor to PR Daily/PR Daily Europe and is a guest columnist at You can follow her on Twitter at @elissapr.



Image of Marissa Mayer via Wikipedia

  • This is a great piece! I don’t agree with her decision, but I don’t fault her for it because she’s a female CEO. I would feel the same way if a male CEO had made that decision.

  • The fact that this is bad for women, for families, and for the environment are important issues to me. However, my critique of Mayer in this instances is not as a “mommy” or a feminist, but as a poor manager. If you don’t know what your employees are doing or whether they are productive when they are working from home, that says more about the company’s management skills than it does about the employees.

    If they have a problem employee who isn’t meeting targets, isn’t getting work in on time and isn’t available when needed, by all means haul that person in or better yet, fire them. But assuming that people who work from home are unproductive is shortsighted and ridiculous.

    • EXACTLY. It’s a bad decision regardless of gender.

  • Elissa

    I see your point, but the issue is Ms Mayer doesn’t have time to deal with each person individually. As you likely know, HR decisions are made for the company as a whole, not for the person as an individual. Her Board, the people who hired her as a pregnant executive, want to see results in her first six months. I’m sure she knows the pros & cons of working at home, but her profit timeline won’t allow for dilly-dallying.
    Perhaps the biggest mistake the yahoo Board made was hiring her while pregnant, in the first place. They unknowingly (?) set her up as a lightening rod for all issues dealing with women, parenting etc. When all they really wanted was her brains.

    • No, she doesn’t have time to deal with each person individually. That’s why she has managers. My point is that managers and employees should be evaluated based on their performance, not based on having a bum in a seat. If Yahoo isn’t set up to evaluate how its teams and employees are performing, I would say that is the problem that should be dealt with ASAP.

      • Elissa

        …and she’ll be able to do this better with less employees – and hire who she really needs to hire.

  • Studies have shown that telecommuting both boosts productivity in employees and cuts costs for businesses. Yahoo’s decline has little to do with where its employees work. I have a feeling that Mayer’s decision, if motivated by driving off the “dead weight” of Yahoo’s telecommuters, will ultimately lead to the company’s inability to attract and retain talented employees who want a flexible workplace that doesn’t follow the archaic notion of things only getting done at the office that is really only better suited to manufacturing, service, and other jobs that require a physical presence to get work tasks done.

    This is not just a poor decision for families, but for business in general. Men and women in tech, especially up-and-coming millennials, have been raised to expect a certain level of freedom and flexibility inherent in the Internet industry. This step backward in the evolution of the workplace only goes to show that Yahoo’s inability to innovate – or even keep up with other people’s innovations – is what will ultimately be responsible for their failure.

    • Elissa

      Well, it’s a bit too early to call for yahoo’s demise. After all, it’s already in pretty rough shape. If you don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t have telecommuting as a privilege – and that’s what it is – then don’t. And please don’t get me started on what employees ‘expect’…good grief. That’s what going into your own business is for.

      • Cheryl

        Perfectly stated Elissa.

        • Elissa

          Thank you, Cheryl!

      • Oh, I am in business for myself. I was actually forced into it by an employer who went back on their promise that I could work from home two days a week when I was hired. In my case, working from home constituted reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for my chronic illnesses, which include chronic fatigue syndrome and a few other things. I reminded them of the ADA when my supervisor (I had no supervisor when I was hired, as I was told I was in charge of the new department I was helping to create) decided she didn’t like me working from home. Sure enough, I was “laid off” a few months later, an illegal termination in which they promoted another employee to my position, for discriminatory reasons confirmed by my replacement after she was eventually let go.

        I am far better off running my own business. But not everyone is cut out for it, and not everyone can make it work.

        Employee expectations, especially in a highly competitive field like Internet tech, are highly relevant. And telecommuting is not just a “privilege” if it was negotiated as a condition of employment. The talented employees you drive off by going back on their hiring contracts will either come up with their own business, that will probably chip away at your business, or go to work for your competitor. Sure, you’ll keep the folks who don’t mind the old school workplace climate, but are they the best and brightest? I’m sure it’s a fairly even split.

        I’m not the only one making the early call for Yahoo’s demise. CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS, and a majority of news sources other than Forbes, have made the same call. The court of public opinion matters a lot, too. The Internet in general seems appalled with Mayer’s decision, and I’m sure there are no few people who will change their homepage and stop using Yahoo’s other services in protest. This will only serve to further hurt Yahoo’s declining market share, a distant third right now behind Google and Bing. The stock prices should be interesting to watch in the coming year.

        • Kristen

          As someone who chose to leave her job because the “benefits” changed (I was promised part-time work after having a baby and the organization could no longer keep me as part-time, instead demanding full-time), the company is not bound by any such promises. Christina, your situation under the ADA is completely different from this telework situation, which is a privilege, not a right. Even if people were promised telework, to bad so sad. No one is making you stay. If the bottom line calls for getting rid of the low-lying people that will storm off because they can’t crank pandora in their pajamas at “work,” so be it.

          And to anyone summarily declaring that people are happier when they telework has absolutely nothing to do with productivity. Welcome to the world of 7.9% unemployment. You might not be as happy at the office but you’ve got a job. If no telework is a deal breaker, I’m sure there is an unemployed 20-something who will miserably take that job.

          Elissa, this is the most rational piece I’ve read on this “controversy.” Let’s start treating Mayer like a CEO and give her vagina a break.

          • Elissa

            Great comment, Kristen. Like the way you’ve articulated this perspective. I’ve noticed the media has been exploring the “well, she DOES have to run a company, you know…” angle. This could all be much ado about nothing – especially if in 6-12 months there is noticeable improvement in earnings.

          • Gail

            Well stated!

      • Melissa

        “Going into your own business” is not an option for most workaday people, male or female. It’s true that companies who insist on an old world work structure will increasingly be unable to attract the biggest talent. The truly motivated, bright, innovative workers will choose not to work in an environment like this….

    • Christina, you are also forgetting another component of the Millennials: their highly collaborative work style, which is what has fueled the explosive growth of SV companies, and which Marissa Mayer is quite right to point out from a cultural perspective. And again, this is a *business* decision, and those employees that are being affected have the option to leave the company.

      Another article later in the day that addresses this in context with *other* studies:

      I’m sorry, but I have worked remotely, as a recruiter I talk to individuals *weekly* that feel they are losing more than they are gaining by working remotely and they realize that being in an office is better for them overall.

  • Elissa

    Great conversation being sparked here. Interesting perspective by Kristen – who as a recruiter has real on-the-ground experience. Christina…I hear you, I worked for one company for 18 years that let me have fabulous flex hours. And then I worked for a company for two years, that did not. It all depends what your life is willing to accommodate. As for the doomsday news reports? As someone who works daily with the media – they don’t report the good news…they report the bad. Their current perspective on yahoo is no surprise.

  • I run a virtual company quite successfully, but for a long time we were half and half. I will tell you the people that came to the office every day resented those who did not. It’s not something you can change. People feel the way they feel. If Yahoo decides this is the best strategy for beating its competition, who are we to say it’s not? We’re not there every day.

    The only issue I have is in how it was (or not) communicated. Telling people they should think long and hard about staying home to meet the cable guy insinuates there is only one thing important in their lives: Work.

    • Elissa

      I’m so glad you weighed in, Gini. Communiques by high-level operators are rarely written with empathy in mind. Your take ( would have been much more palatable…even though as you say, it sucks either way.

  • Elissa, great article and it’s amazing to see the responses in readers. I am curious to see what comes of this in the future, it may be what Yahoo needs right now to push their company out of the ditch they have been in. People do work harder and differently with someone breathing down their necks, not saying that means its the right thing but I will be watching to see the results. But as a woman with children the jobs that were always understanding that kids get sick, have school plays etc and were tolerant of us making up the hours at home or at night were the ones that I gave my most to because they seemed to care more….just saying.

    • Elissa

      Completely agree. When I has more flexible time at one particular job….they knew I was on the job at 10 p.m. – midnight making up for the time…

  • Elissa, you know I thought this was a great article, but this is an even greater discussion. I’m impressed with EVERYONE who has weighed in. Time will tell how this polarizing policy change plays out.

    • Elissa

      I think the discussion is the most important element – we NEED to keep talking about this issue…

  • Finally, the voice of reason on this site. Thank you Elissa. I wrote a very similar post on my blog last week ;). It’s do or die here people. Either she trims some of the fat or there will be thousands of Yahoo employees at the unemployment line eventually. I didn’t read anywhere where she said this was a permanent solution and that telecommuting would never be allowed again. Give this a chance. Everyone’s always getting their panties in a bunch. Heck, we don’t even know how many of these people were actually working moms and yet we are getting all bent out of shape over it. She’s a CEO doing her job and you know what, I don’t think this would have made the news if it was a male CEO.

    • Elissa

      Thanks for you comment, Monica. Now that some time has passed since this story first broke, it appears that cooler heads are starting to prevail. Her changes do not mean sweeping reform – they are to hopefully get Yahoo back on its feet.

  • How about making a woman heading a major labor union the new face of feminism? How many of us know the name of one union leader?

Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Hillary Clinton, Shake It Off, Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton Campaign song
Six Reasons “Shake It Off” Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Theme Song
Nancy Reagan dies, Just Say No, Ronald Reagan
A Not-So-Positive Ode to Nancy Reagan’s Frothy “Just Say No” Campaign
I Married for Health Insurance
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Trump Reality Check, Now with Actual Facts!
Fascism Facts
I Married for Health Insurance
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
Paris attacks, Paris terrorism
Is Paris Burning?
Chinese government and women's reproductive rights, adopting Chinese girls, international adoption
Dear Xi Jinping, I Am Writing to You as an American Mom of a 19-Year-Old Chinese Daughter
The Vital Voice of Hillary Clinton: Part 1
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
The Eyes Have It!
Ashley Madison, Jared Fogle, sex, rape, sexual affairs
Ashley Madison vs. Jared Fogle: Rape, Sex and Hacking in America
women's viagra, Viagra, Flibanserin, sexual arousal, women's desire, sex after menopause
That “Little Pink Pill” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread