Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Standing on the glass ceiling

When you think of a woman who has it all, the family and the career, there is so much more behind the scenes than most people realize.

Organization, coordination, the requirement of other people to fill in the gaps seamlessly, is all necessary.  Having it all isn't easy, primarily for one reason.

It is, simply put, impossible to be in two places at once.

Women cannot be kicking ass and taking names 80 hours a week in boardrooms, and be wholly present for their families all the time.  It's a physical impossibility.

The women who seem to balance it all, and I count a few of them as close friends of mine, who can stand tiptoed on the top of the scale, constantly shifting and adjusting, aren't just talented and smart and resourceful and flexible.

They're also lucky.

Some of them are geniuses.

A few of them have created their own work environments after learning the hard way that the conventional wisdom which dictates a firm line between work and home isn't often feasible once you have children.

Once kids enter the picture, most women want that flexibility.  Need it.  Crave it, like a deep maternal instinct wearing heels.

Society, for the most part, has started to evolve in ways that push towards that flexibility, although if we are being honest, it's easy to see how short the United States comes up in the maternity leave department, among other concessions to allow for families.

Telecommuting has become more and more popular, and often results in a more productive workforce than one chained to a desk all day.  Job sharing has become more common.  Some companies allow for flexible hours to allow not just mothers, but fathers, to leave work early for t-ball games and dance recitals.

These benefits haven't just helped women, they have helped everyone, even those people without children.

These benefits wouldn't have come, however, without women asking for them, demanding them, forgoing the inflexible male-dominated institutions and starting their own businesses.  

The retraction of these benefits this week by the CEO of a large company rubbed me the wrong way immediately as a step in the wrong direction for all employees, but for women in particular.

New Yahoo CEO, Marissa Meyer, has banned employees from working from home.  In the online world, which has been one of the most flexible industries in the nation, she wants all her employees in the building, all day.

The most confusing part of it all, aside from the obvious reputation the industry has for relaxed environments, is that Ms. Meyer herself is a new mother.

A new mother who was back at work less than two weeks after giving birth.

I obviously do not know Ms. Meyer personally, but I have to wonder why she is so insistent that every single employee of her company needs to give up all their flexibility just because she says so.

She may want to be in the office all the time, but why start requiring it from legitimately productive people accustomed to a flexible work environment?

Is she trying to justify the fact that she sees no need to be home with her own child, a fact that she was raked over the coals for in the media when it happened last year?

Is she unaware of the studies that have shown time and again that people are both happier and more productive if given the option to work from home at least occasionally?

Is she really a 70 year old man masquerading as a new mother?

Forgive me, but I can't figure it out.

I can't understand why anyone, particularly a woman with an infant, would decree from the mountaintops that having a work/life balance is unnecessary.

Why is this woman standing on the glass ceiling, telling other women that they may become successful under her leadership only if they are willing to forgo everything else in their lives for work?

Have women really come this far to be pushed back down by one of us?

She's not doing anyone any favors here, including herself.  Soon to be leading a disgruntled workforce, she will face a lot of backlash from this decision.  She may start having a mass exodus of good employees.  This has been a hot topic in the media already for days.

Marissa, go home.

Kiss that baby.

Stop thinking like a CEO for a few minutes.

Think like a working mom instead.


  1. I thought and thought about this. Cause her comments about being a Mom was easier than she thought. And my first reaction was like, "oh well when you leave your kid to a sitter all day, yeah it's easy." Then I felt awful for thinking that, maybe she just means she has such a great support system in place that it was easier than she thought. My hubby telecommutes and makes it work admirably. This doesn't mean we don't have to sacrifice him to travel into the office out of state once a month. This doesn't mean we don't have to leave home for 6 weeks every year so that he can build bridges at work and maintain the great communication and team work. Telecommuting still requires all to be present and working and it doesn't work for everyone. Hubby had to fire an employee he let telecommute because they guy took advantage and didn't actually work. There are a few at his work that telecommute and fail miserably in the balancing it all and maintaining great communication. If his company was to recall him back to L.A. I'd be devastated. His boss also knows our conditions 1. home in a gated community 2. enough of a raise to pay 2 kid's private school tuition. 3. more flexibility in hours, as I would have to work if we lived there. It sucks when one person in a company ruins it for everyone. I think her decision is not about being a Mom and more about being a CEO of a floundering company and she is trimming the people who are taking advantage. She can't quite pinpoint what is going wrong, but right now she needs all to be there and working and communicating, maybe she will change her mind later on.

  2. I am at home working today, taking care of a sick Momma and Kid. If I didn't have this option.....I would have missed a meeting that I assisted in saving the company a lot of money and headache. Flexibility is key. I will working harder to keep it. I haven't used a "sick" day in years.

  3. I've always thought the belief in 'having it all' was a bit of a feminist fairy tale, a myth. No one can or should have it all, regardless of their gender. Life is not about having it all. If it were I fear we'd all be in the weeds because what we want--at least as far as I can tell--is rarely set in stone.

    As for Miss Yahoo, well, I imagine she believes she's acting in the best interest of her company. Despite what studies show about telecommuting when companies are paring down and cutting back the first to go will be the people who aren't in the building. I've been seeing this policy change in many businesses in corporate America lately--the pendulum is moving again in the hopes a present employee is a more engaged employee. It is flawed logic but there it is.

    I agree this move impacts women more than men but that's because we're not far enough down the road to equality yet.

  4. I really love this post. I want to hug it. I don't know what else to say. I simply love it.

  5. Funny that you've turned this into the same thing she's done... telling her to go home and kiss her baby. While I don't agree that she needs to be making that all-day-at-the-office decision for everyone else because that's what she does, you don't need to be telling her what she needs to do either. I'm sure her child is well cared for. So what if she went back to week within 2 weeks of having a baby? Her life. No one would think or say a thing if that was a man.

    1. I'm sure her child is well cared for too, and her choice to do whatever she wants is her choice. My point is that she is taking that choice away from other women.

    2. But she's not a man. She's a mother who just gave birth. Equating a male reality to a female reality is what got us into trouble in the first place. And even MEN hate having to go back so soon. Tons take paternity leave now.

      And I'm sorry, but a child should not be the sacrificial lamb for one woman's career ambitions. She wants maximum flexibility? Get a house plant. This is not to say working moms can't make it work. As a birth and postpartum doula, I work punishing hours at times (with all the attendant guilt). But I'm not pretending that it's no big deal to give birth and become a mother, either.

      And I seriously hate it when women act like men and screw other women.

    3. Alison,

      (I'm really not picking a fight. Kelly will tell you I enjoy a good discussion)

      Just wanted to address one point. Why is it you say it's male for a woman to, as you put it, "screw other women"? I think the discussion of gender roles is better served by letting go of those stereotypes.

  6. Looking back, it seems much easier to leave a 2 week old than a toddler or god help us a middle school kid while you are at work. This woman isn't there yet. A 2 week old needs to be loved and held it really can happen pretty easily with a support system. Missig your 4 year olds dance recital or not being the one to hear about your childs day at school or her first boyfriend etc those are the moments that shape your child and she will miss the ability to be a part of that process. She isn't there yet she really doesn't know. Give her time to grow up. Unfortunately the gains made in the workforce will suffer while we wait for her to mature.

  7. I was one of those women who worked 80 hours a week and left my kids with a babysitter. I had an awesome sitter and I made a ton of money, but in the end, I am not sure it was worth it. When I was laid off, I did not know what to do. I was completely at a loss. I still took my kids to daycare because I did not know how to entertain them. I could manage three phone calls and work in three time zones while flying to another state for a meeting, but I was not sure what to do with an infant and a toddler. It took a while, but I got the hang of it.

    After a few years of working sporadically in offices, I went to work for a major candy manufacturer and eventually worked from home. I ended up working at home for three years. It was absolutely ideal. Since most of my co-workers lived and worked in other states, we did not need an office to do our jobs. We needed a phone and a computer. The change from the office to home was virtually seamless. I was available for my co-workers in the Eastern Time Zone in the morning and the Pacific Time Zone in the afternoon. Everyone benefited. I could take off during the day to retrieve my kids from school. I could take real time to help them when they needed it. Everyone won. Still, I was laid off so the company could get someone with no education in an office. They wanted a warm body.

    Since that layoff, I have had a terrible time trying to get a job. I think employers see that I worked from home with little supervision and they just don't know what kind of employee I would be. Since no one can claim that they saw me working, no one can actually account for my work life. While my work from home job was perfect for me at the time, I think that in the long run, it has hurt my career. Still, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved the flexibility and I am a good worker.

    1. Monica,

      Thank you for the honesty of your post. That takes real guts. Thank you also for sharing your experience. I really do long for a world where women's lives are addressed in a holistic way.

  8. I agree, she doesn't have a clue yet about what she's doing. In hindsight, infants are a breeze. I thought that it was super easy with my first child too. I was silly enough to wonder what people complained about. This kid thing was a piece of cake. Pshaw! Then I had a second child and it was ALL different. And I was humbled. Rightfully so.

    I seriously doubt that the roots of Yahoo's problems are in telecommuting. I would be surprised if it was top 5 even. It's terribly disappointing to see what should be a smart, savvy woman, a woman that we want to be able to hold up as an example for forward thinking, fall right into male dominated corporate-think and stand at the top of the ladder kicking down the people with families.

  9. I currently have the flexibility to work from home with my job and we have had our benefit of working from home revoked before because of people who abuse the benefit. They quickly realized that the productivity that they were used to was nearly cut in half when the team was in the office and more people were taking "sick" days to take care of their families. There must have been reasons behind the revoking of the benefit at Yahoo, but I'm sure that new CEO will soon learn what happens to their employee productivity and morale. Thanks for writing about this!

  10. Apple, Microsoft, Google, NBC, ABC, CBS, Cisco, Siemens, HTC, NOKIA, they will be happy to avail themselves to the talent Ms. Meyer has abandoned.

    As for her inability to maintain a flexible workforce: she wants everyone to be miserable with her. She's like Dilbert's "pointy-haired boss" in real life. Those ghosts are everywhere.

    Nice post.

  11. When I first heard about what Ms. Meyer's had proclaimed I was taken aback. Then it was pointed out to me that the new HR director comes from the financial world. She is a female, but she comes from a different sector of the business world. In her former job, it's not easy to work from home. So she has it in her mind that it's not productive. It was her advice to Ms. Meyer's that made this decision. I think and pray it will backfire for Yahoo. Working from home has shown to be more productive because people don't quit at 5 o'clock. They happen to log more hours. I know I did when I worked from home.

    Maybe Ms. Meyer's child will be reared by a nanny or two. Maybe she will miss out on the big milestones. But that's her choice. I don't agree with it, but it is her choice. Her employees can easily tell her they don't want to make the choice she has.... by finding a better work environment for the competition.

    Well written Kelly!

  12. I am in a job that allows me to work from home when needed. I come to work but, if my kid is sick or I need to attend a concert in the middle of the day, I can work from home on that day! This arrangement has made life so comfortable for me as a mom of two!
    I now hear that Meyers has a nursery built into her office for her baby to be with her! Yet, she denies the right of other employees to be with theirs! I cannot understand what kind of double standards are at play here! I understand that she comes from Google where employees are encouraged to work long hours, but the least she can do is serve as an example for her current employees instead of being a hypocrite!

  13. Interesting read. As a working mom and former senior manager, very intriguing topic. More and more moms have to work, so the challenge is how to give working families the flexiblity they need and still make it work for the organization. Your hyperlink to the 'research' that demonstrates the success of telecommunicating is another citation that quotes the employees satisfaction with the process - not the organizations'perception of effectiveness. I have seen telecommunicating work well, with good strong leaders who know how to engage a telecommunicating team. I have also seen it build social isolation, foster disengagement within the organization, and hinder goal attainment via weak mobilization of resources. Yahoo needs to change something - that's clear. We'll see how this plays out. Maybe all that will result is attrition, which may or may not be a bad thing.
    Kim Wilschek,
    owner, Chicago CPR, Chicago Pregnancy, & Safety Squad


Some of My Most Popular Posts