Why I Care About Marissa Mayer

I’ve been thinking of writing about this topic ever since word emerged that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, was abolishing the company policy which previously allowed employees to work remotely.  But I was particularly inspired to do so when I read this post by Sarah Lacy on Pando Daily, admonishing that anyone who disagrees with Ms. Mayer’s decision– which Lacy equates to my decision to eat Chinese food for lunch–should just shut up because Ms. Mayer is busy keeping her head down and trying to run a company, thankyouverymuch.  Lacy previously issued a condescending response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in which she basically said Slaughter should shut up about women not having it all because Lacy has figured out how to “have it all,” thankyouverymuch.  (The one part of Lacy’s piece I did agree with was that every person has a different definition of “having it all.”)

By the way, what’s with this preoccupation with shutting people up?  Disagreeing with people’s viewpoints is one thing; trying to silence dissenting viewpoints is another.

On the topic of “having it all,” as well as on the topic of Marissa Mayer’s policy edicts, I think Lacy misses the point.  Just because Lacy has figured out — kudos to her — how to create a balance that works for her family doesn’t mean that there aren’t institutional problems.  The fact remains that, as Slaughter discusses at length, the American workplace is generally unfriendly to the realities of family life and child-rearing.  This is not just a woman problem or a feminist issue.  It is a problem that affects us all.

As for Ms. Mayer, I can’t disagree more with Lacy’s suggestion that her decisions don’t matter unless you work at Yahoo!  At this moment in our society, we can either move toward policies that are more progressive and flexible, or away from them.  Companies and their CEOs do not make these policy decisions in a vacuum; they look to other similar institutions to see what’s being done.  Yahoo! may have previously been used as a template for flexible work arrangements, and now, it will likely be touted by those in favor of the traditional emphasis on “face time” to insist that we haven’t moved past needing to be at our cubicles all day, after all.

One thing I can concede is that I don’t work at Yahoo! and I don’t know the realities of the company’s operations.  Perhaps Ms. Mayer’s conclusion that her employees need to be in the office to do their work is well-reasoned based on past performance.  And as Slaughter herself points out, Mayer’s job is first and foremost to save her company, not to concern herself with the cultural zeitgeist.  But there is still no doubt in my mind that how Mayer runs Yahoo! –as well as how other CEOs, men and women, run their companies– will have a broader impact, and for that reason it matters to me.  If you care about how America’s economy and society are structured, it should matter to you, too.

About the Blogger:

Rachel Wilkes Barchie is a lawyer and new mama living with her husband and their daughter Lucy in Los Angeles.  Ms. Barchie blogs at www.lovingmylucy.com.

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