I’ll start by saying that I don’t know Marissa as a person, I’ve never met her – only seen her at a “distance” at conferences. She strikes me as incredibly bright … and incredibly self-involved. So maybe her current public image problems are just a natural extension of her own personality characteristics.
When she was first recruited as Yahoo!’s CEO, I chuckled to myself and gave it a 1/10 chance she’d still be in the job in a year. Let’s face it, either there was nobody keen enough to take a job that would involve rolling up the sleeves and diving into a vat of muck … or the goal was to poke Google in the eye by stealing a key bit of talent. What else could it have been? She’s got absolutely nothing in her track record that suggests she’d be a suitable CEO for a distressed public company. You don’t want a glorified product manager for that role, you want someone who knows how to turn-around a business. It was just politics.
My personal opinion is that Yahoo! can’t be turned around by a technologist anyhow.
I read with a mixture of sympathy and irritation the saga around childbirth. Sympathy because it couldn’t have been very pleasant to have such a personal matter thrust into the spotlight – and irritation, because it’s not like it’s the first time an executive has had to simultaneously deal with having a kid and managing a job. Sure it’s bloody tough – but it’s far from novel. In fact, by making it so “novel” we actually take something away from what I believe is increasingly a desired societal goal – namely that people (and particularly women) can have both a fulfilling career and a family. I believe our workplaces are are wising up to the productivity and “team health” benefits of supporting family life.
My ire rose considerably when I read that Marissa had built a nursery next to her office so that she could work longer hours. Wow – what a tremendous privelage! While I think it is reasonable that if you have the means to improve your life you should, I also think that in an executive leadership role you have an obligation to think about what your actions really mean to others. It is a testament to her lack of maturity, gravitas and leadership that she chose to implement a personal-work life solution that could not possibly be replicated by any other female member of her staff. Or a male member for that matter. She actually missed a tremendous leadership opportunity to do something for Yahoo! that could have benefitted all women in her workforce but she chose not to.
Despite the reputation for only hiring millennials, tech companies like Yahoo! have an average workforce age of about 35. This means that Marissa Mayer (at 37) is roughly on par with her female colleagues. Clearly if there were insufficient child-minding facilities onsite for her, there were probably other employees who had the same problem?
What irritated me the most about the Mayer baby commentary was the idea that somehow only a woman could be affected enough by the emotional challenges of having a kid to do something like build a nursery in the office. In fact, many men who have children feel this same pang every day, myself included. When I am on the road, I miss my son incredibly and I constantly feel the guilt of the long hours my job demands. I am acutely aware of the fact that I am not, in many ways, ideally fulfilling my duties as a father.
Maybe we’re all just a bunch of wimps and Marissa did what any self-respecting executive would do if they had a true “set of balls,” but I don’t think this is about “executive privelege”. I think it is about setting a realistic example and being a role model. For a woman, it is probably harder because I do believe that women struggle more with the exeuctive/family life conflict, but it is no less important.
However, with this latest stupidity around telecommuting, I think she has demonstrated her complete lack of fitness for the role of CEO. There are three reasons for this.
Firstly, by tightening up the stance on telecommuting she essentially undermines a fundamental tenent of her industry – that of information dissemination, ubiquitous communication and integrating people everywhere. In a sense, by cracking down on distributed organizations, she’s sending the message that her talent pool is limited to those she can contain within the walls of Yahoo!’s Sunnyvale campus. This is so old fashioned and out of pace with our modern world. To me, this is a bigger failing than sending the message that it’s not ok to balance work/family life. There is a whole world out there of ideas and ingenuity and Yahoo! has basically excluded themselves from it.
Secondly, I do agree that she is sending the wrong message to people that may have legitimate reasons for needing to telecommute. I do think that, particularly in the IT industry, there is positive scope for talented employees who have kids or need to have a different type of working environment (i.e. disabilities, need to look after an unwell loved one) to take a more flexible approach. It’s a bit harder if you work in a molecular biology lab. In my experience, telecommuting does not exclude spending time at corporate HQ or the need to physically participate in key workshops/meetings. It’s also not necessarily true that telecommuniting is appropriate for all roles within an organization. If your function is business development or client-facing, it’s entirely reasonable. If you responsibility is to manage a production team, it may be less appropriate for longer periods of time.
But the biggest failing is cultural. The “punch in, punch out” mentality at Yahoo! has got nothing to do with telecommuting or homeworking, it has to do with a demotivated workforce. When people are looking at the clock to head home at night, it means that employees no longer see their job as anything more than the means to a paycheck. I have several very valued employees who leave the office at 5pm to pick up kids or beat traffic but I also know they are back on line for a few hours in the evening to chase a few items or take calls with business partners in different time zones. They’re perfectly entitled to hit the road at 5pm.
This is not what is happening at Yahoo! Besides, people who have low productivity while telecommuting will also have low productivity in the office.
In essence, Marissa is not a role model for her disillusioned workforce. She clearly doesn’t understand much about leading people (a recurrent theme in much of what is written about her) and as brilliant as she may be about solving technology and product-related problems, she probably lacks the “people solving” abilities that are really a fundamental part of leading a distressed business toward salvation.
Just because you’re a great technologist, doesn’t make you a great turn-around CEO.