Why Marissa Mayer’s Decision on Working from Home is About All of Us: How Far We Haven’t Come

Ironically, it’s been just over a week since we noted the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and about two weeks since the 20th Anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act. In case you didn’t realize, it’s been TWENTY YEARS since our government passed any sort of federal initiative to protect working families.

How much has changed in twenty years?

Aside from the new gray hairs I have sprouting on my head and the dramatic influx of technology into our daily lives, well, unfortunately for women working in America, it’s not been a progressive 20 years. Because on the federal level, nothing has changed.

Did you know that in 1990, the United States ranked 6th in female labor participation among the 22 countries in the OECD?

Want to know how we fared in 2010?

Oh, we’d fallen to 17th place. Oh my, how far we haven’t gone.

Last week there was an excellent piece in the NYT written by Professor Stephanie Coontz on Friedan, feminism and its place in between the demands of work and family life for women in the United States. Professor Coontz noted that our workload has increased dramatically from 30-hour work weeks in the early 1930s to the standard 40 hour week by 1938. Jump forward to 2000 and by then the United States had surpassed the Japanese in working hours per week — she explained the average dual-earning couple worked “a combined 82 hours/week.”

Think of that in contrast with Coontz noting that “70% of American children live in households where both parents work.

So we’ve decided we all need to work more but we need to protect working families less on the federal level – so not one of us should be surprised that when compared with other countries who are “economically and politically similar to us, the US comes in dead last in family-work policies.”

Not long ago I blogged about how the Europeans have laws that protect parents, specifically those with children under the age of 6 or with special needs until that child is 18, these laws dictate that a company can not reasonably deny a request to work part-time or flexible hours. And what have the companies found? They’ve found that it hasn’t impacted their bottom line, it hasn’t made them go broke, or ruined them. And it’s certainly boosted morale. Oh, and for many of these European countries, these laws have been in place for over a decade.

No one responded to that blog post. No one noted their surprise or anger that we have NOTHING similar here in the United States.

And yet – Marissa Mayer – she of the famous 2-week maternity leave, she who built a nursery NEXT DOOR to her office at Yahoo! – notifies everyone at Yahoo! that they will no longer be able to work from home effective June – and ANGER bounces across the country.

While a writer at Forbes hails her as a true business leader. Meanwhile a writer at The Broad Side claims that we shouldn’t criticize her just because she is a woman making a seemingly anti-woman decision. I would argue that it’s not that Mayer is thinking like a man, she’s thinking like an AMERICAN.

And then there’s Richard Branson – who takes to Twitter to express his shock that she would make such an antiquated decision, in fact he called in “backward thinking.”

Newsflash Americans – we are a MOCKERY on the world stage because we do NOTHING to support working families on the federal level. We spend so much time talking about this female CEO and the luxury she affords herself by building a nursery next door to her office but rescinds work-life balance options for all her employees. We gossip about Sheryl Sandberg and her obnoxious suggestion that she is every working woman because she, too, has had a daughter with lice, that she discovered on a business trip, on her private plane. These women are nothing like any of us.

And yet where is our outrage that we live in a country where it’s okay for a Fortune 500 CEO, be the CEO a man or a woman, to rescind a work-life flexibility policy from its employees without having to face any consequences?  Give me a break – that isn’t leading. And neither is our country. We are a joke. We haven’t come far, we’ve gone back.

Ask yourself, what is it our country leads when women continually drop out of the work place because we have no policies in place to manage work and family? Where our female participation rate in the work place drops over time while it rises for women in other developed countries?

Mayer’s decision is a reflection of where we, as a culture, place value. Her decision is about every single one of us because we are complacent and, unfortunately for many, blind, to just how antiquated our system is for working families. I’d imagine that the Europeans are all mocking just how far we haven’t come. We should be demanding more. We should be demanding leadership  – leadership from our business CEOs and from our elected politicians. I don’t care if they are a man or a woman – every single one of them has a family.

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5 Responses to Why Marissa Mayer’s Decision on Working from Home is About All of Us: How Far We Haven’t Come
  1. Julie
    February 26, 2013 | 1:13 am

    So I’ve read that blog entry (and all your others), and I didn’t comment not because I don’t agree and I’m not outraged, but because I’m defeated. Yes other nations have better family friendly polices. I’ve read about it on numerous occasions. I’ve seen excellent co-works leave to go back home (Denmark) to raise their families. I’ve lived a sad parallel existence with a friend in Switzerland who had a baby at the same time I had my first. But while I headed back to work at 12-weeks she was still at home, snuggling, nurturing and snapping pictures of their growing baby. While I struggled to keep my head above water at work while sleep deprived and foggy, she spent her time in parks, or jetting around on high speed trains to Italy, France, England; seeing the world with their new babe on the weekends, reconnecting with her husband, building a family.

    None of this is news to me. Those other countries also have a cleaner food supply, better infrastructure, superior education systems, decent transportation options; they don’t allow known toxins into lotions, soaps, and shampoo. I could go on…

    I agree, our policies need to change, no doubt about it. BUT I’ve also read comments on posts of bills that have tried to make it through the House on giving paid parenteral leave to federal employees. I’ve seen how disgusted people are that this would be PAID for by TAXpayers and how they don’t WANT to pay for a mother (or father) to be home with a BABY; that’s what sick leave and vacation are for after all.

    I’ve also had a single, childless female comment to me that if I get paid leave to stay home to take care of my new baby then she deserves to get paid leave to get a new dog. How can you rationalize with people who think dogs are on equal status as babies? Do dogs grow up to contribute to society? Will dogs pay taxes? How can we move forward when so many are so vocally polarized? These initiatives will take $$ and significant flexibility for adaptation and change; none of which seem to be plentiful in American society today.

    Again, I’m with you. As a mother of a 9-month old and a 3-year old I agree with you 100% that the family policies of the US private and federal workforce desperately need to change. But I’m defeated.

    After the birth of my second child I started back at work in August after using all my available vacation and sick leave, and have yet to put in a full week of work this winter. Each week one (or both) kids has had pink eye, an ear infection, a fever, or is sent home for a non-contagious post-viral rash. So each week I’ve taken at least a day off to care for a sick child. I have no help, no local grandparents, my husband (an ER doctor) can not take off. If day-care is closed I have no part time nanny to swoop in so that I continue to ‘have it all’. Not only do our workforce polices need changed but our daycare policies need help too (following the exclusion criteria set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics would be a good start to limit pointless days off for parents).

    The system is broken. It’s not that any of us don’t want to comment. I just think many of us don’t fathom that things could ever change. We are on anti-tax anti-government roll here in America. None of this is possible without government leading the way or government pressure. However, when majority of our country thinks government is too big this is a task that seems insurmountable. Or maybe I’m just really tired. ; D

    As to Mayer, I’m not a fan of hers, but Yahoo! is her company — she can do what she wants. Although I work from home 5 of 10 working days I do find my time in the office to be collaborative, idea generating, and productive. I’ve learned to keep my at-home work to pushing out reports and the more touchy feely work to my days in the office. It’s a nice balance, I couldn’t imagine it any other way, but I also couldn’t imagine working from home 100% of the time either — you occasionally need face-to-face contact for effective meetings & collaboration. I’m hopeful this new policy at Yahoo! is a temporary step to get things back on track and that more flexible arrangements can be made for employees in the future.

    • Bridget
      February 27, 2013 | 2:54 pm


  2. Korinthia Klein
    February 26, 2013 | 3:35 am

    A well written post. I think it is an American problem in that many believe that an ideal of personal freedom and responsibility translates into the concept that each of us will sink or swim on our own merits. I’m tired of politicians who talk about valuing families and then do nothing to support them.

  3. Meg
    February 26, 2013 | 12:25 pm

    Well said. I’m in HR and often tasked with assisting employees through the complicated steps to take FMLA. All these years later most employees are flabbergasted to learn it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be paid while on leave. But hey don’t worry, we will still hold your job for you! Unless we don’t have to. Then we won’t. Now go take care of your family.

  4. Monica Sakala
    February 27, 2013 | 1:35 pm

    Thank you so much for all these smart and insightful comments! It is reassuring to know I’m not just talking to myself and honestly – you guys made some points that I wish I had thought to make in the original piece.

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