I should be in bed right now- I'm soloing this weekend while Mr. Snarky visits one of his best friends from his university days, who happens to be in a somewhat nearby location. I am glad he gets to see his friend, but wow, I'm tired. If I had to solo every weekend, I suspect we would not do quite so many activities. Also, tomorrow is likely to start before 6 a.m. and will involve two birthday parties.
But... I have a lot of thoughts about Marissa Mayer and the recent decision by Yahoo to require employees to work from the office, and not the home. And I have a lot of thoughts about the treatment Sheryl Sandberg is getting in the press in advance of the release of her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
I feel motivated to share my thoughts, motivated enough to stay up tonight and write a serious post on a weekend (something I rarely do). But I am strangely unmotivated to pull them together into a solid, coherent post.
So instead, here are some lightly edited comments on the topic that I have posted on other people's blogs, with some extra thoughts and bonus links at the end. One of the awesome things about being a blogger and not an essayist is that I can get away with this sort of thing. You get what you pay for, you know.
First, about working from home, from my comment on Mommyshort's post on the topic:
When my first child was born, I was working at a large contracting company. I had an office, but most of my work was with people on the opposite coast, so no one cared AT ALL if I showed up to the office. When I was coming back from maternity leave, they all assumed I'd want to work from home. The ones who were parents assumed I'd have in home help. The others had some cute idea about babies sleeping all day, except for when they were awake looking quietly cute on a play mat. (This delusion is how humans are convinced to reproduce, so I don't enlighten them.)
I told them they were all insane and came back to the office. I lived in a small apartment at the time. My daughter would have smelled me and demanded me, because that's the type of baby she was, and that was abundantly clear to me by the time I was going back to work (she was 3 months old when I went back part time, 4 months old when I went back full time).
But, I know that my situation is not the same as everyone else's situation. I'm told that some people's babies really do sleep all the time. Now that my oldest is in Kindergarten, I can also see how it would be possible to work from home with her present and actually produce some work.
So as a manager, I take each person's situation individually. Some people (and some jobs) are excellent candidates for working from home. There is one person who reports to me whom I rarely see in person, and she does incredible work and I would throw a tantrum worthy of my 3 year old if she ever tried to leave. I have other people who work remotely most of the time but come into the office for meetings one or two days per week. My own job, though? Nah, I have to be in the office for the gazillion meetings I attend every single day (why did I go into management again?) and to be available for the other employees I have who need face time with me. I could maybe swing a one day per week at home arrangement (and I would be super productive- I'm good at internal motivation) but the hassle of setting that up doesn't seem worth it, particularly since I need to pick my younger daughter up from a day care 5 minutes away from my office.
Therefore, I'm disappointed with Yahoo's new blanket policy. I think it is short-sighted and lets managers get away with being poor managers. I think that if some people were not performing as remote workers, their managers should have fixed that IMMEDIATELY. I know it sucks to call people out on this sort of thing, but that is why you are the manager. You have to do this stuff. Grow up and do it.
But- Yahoo's policy is hardly unique, even in the tech world, so I don't think it deserves the fuss it is getting. And there are plenty of tech companies with more enlightened policies, and they are using this as a recruiting opportunity. Etsy, for instance. (Which makes the third really impressive thing I've heard about Etsy recently. It is a shame my skills are in science informatics and not shopping informatics, or I would totally look at them as an employer.) The thing is, it is damned hard to find good tech talent and I think any of Yahoo's remote workers who are really good will be able to find a company that will let them continue with their remote arrangement. The ones who aren't good... well, they will either raise their game or suffer the consequences.
Next, about the treatment of both Mayer and Sandberg in these discussions, from a comment on Blue Milk's post:
I have been watching the treatment Sandberg’s been getting and
thinking to myself: “And people wonder why Marissa Mayer refuses to call
herself a feminist?” Neither Sandberg nor Mayer is a perfect person.
But none of us are. Would any of our lives stand up to the scrutiny that
these two women get? Personally, I find Sandberg much more
inspirational than Mayer, but that does not mean Mayer deserves the
treatment she is getting from people.
Take the furor over the recent Yahoo decision to require all their
employees to work from the office- a lot of other companies, even in
high tech, have similar policies. Google doesn’t have the policy, but
has a culture that strongly encourages long hours in the office. Yet Mayer is the only CEO who is getting excoriated about it. I don’t
agree with her move, because I think it is short-sighted and unlikely
to solve the problem she is trying to solve. But so much of the
discussion of it is so obviously sexist against Mayer that I have mostly
tuned it out, even though productivity and changing our workplace
cultures to promote a healthier work-life arrangement for everyone is
something I am passionate about.
This is not to say that I don’t think there are fair criticisms to be
leveled at Mayer, just that I think we are holding her to a standard we
don’t hold male CEOs to. We won’t defeat sexism until we demand change
from male leaders, not just female ones.
Similarly, there are fair criticisms to be leveled at Sandberg, but
it is unfair to expect her to tackle all feminist concerns. No one can
be an activist on all the problems we face at once. She admits that she
is only addressing one part of the problem. Personally, I’m glad that
she has made time and energy to work on the problems she does address. I
am nowhere near as powerful as she is at work, and I don’t often have
the energy after dealing with my own concerns to go out and advocate to
fix the larger problems. In fact, I just wrote on my blog this week that
the flak I get when I write about being a working mother even on my little blog has made me steer clear of the subject. I admire Sandberg
for being willing to stand up to the judgement and criticism and keep
Here are links to two articles that express my opinions better than I do:
Jessica Valenti on Sheryl Sandberg.
The Economist on how forcing Yahoos to the office is a symptom of Yahoo's problems, not the solution.
And here are my closing thoughts:
I am really, really, REALLY sick of people tearing into Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg on work-life issues, but giving Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and all the other male executives a free pass.
Should senior managers care about enabling their employees to have good work-life arrangements? Of course. Should they try to ensure that the ability to pursue a rewarding career and be a mother is something that is available to all women in their organizations? Definitely. ALL senior managers should care about these things, not just the high profile female ones. ALL senior managers should be held accountable for this stuff, and not just because decent people should care about the impact of their actions on others, but because getting these things right is good for the bottom line. And yes, there is research that shows that, but no, I'm not going to take the time to go dig it up tonight (some of the research about productivity is linked to on this page, though).
Also... we should remember that some of the underlying problems may be best addressed in the public sector, not the private one. Issues with commute times, availability of high quality affordable child care, and school-work schedule mismatches are problems that could perhaps be solved more efficiently by trying to act through government, rather than leaving it up to individual companies to figure out. Not all companies have the resources of Facebook or Yahoo, after all.
So sure, let's discuss how best to arrange our work cultures to promote productivity. Let's discuss the fact that for many women, the idea of leaning in or out is laughable- they are running as hard as they can to keep from getting flattened in this economy and have no option to ease up. But let's stop laying these problems at the feet of two women and letting a host of men in similar positions off the hook. Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg have difficult, high pressure jobs, and single-handedly fixing the problems of all working parents is not in either of their job descriptions.
OK, I feel better now. Rant over. I can go to sleep.