Marissa Mayer and the devolution of the working mother

Big news out of Yahoo this week when company CEO Marissa Mayer ended the company’s existing flexible working arrangements for employees. Staffers were collectively called home to their cubicles when the company announced that corporate productivity and creativity are only at their peak when the hive mind is actively engaged. The days of working from home in any formal capacity were over—at Yahoo, at least.

The news was shared generously—not unlike an elementary school virus—through the somewhat limited social media channels I tune into. Parents posted the story to Facebook, sharing their own anecdotes about the shriveling tolerance by employers of untraditional working schedules, allowing them to pick up their children from school or complete projects during non-peak hours. Heck, I even have one of my own.

I’m not sure why anyone would have expected a more progressive stance on work-from-home arrangements from Mayer, a woman who vowed from the point at which she was hired, pregnant, by Yahoo that the impending birth of her son would in no way, shape or form change her commitment to or ability to perform her job. With no actual parenting experience at the time, she announced to the world that she would be The Mom You’d Never Suspect of Being One!

If this is her brand, I for one would like to offer up a bravo and a slow round of applause for working it so tirelessly. This second announcement is entirely on-message with the one she made in her third trimester of pregnancy as a new Yahoo hire. And socio-culturally Mayer’s certainly in lockstep with the corporate climate when it comes to family leave in this country. As a corporate titan in her own right, I’m sure she’s done her homework and knows this to be the case. The United States is notoriously stingy in its attitudes toward granting paid parental leave, ranking at the bottom of the list of countries to do so alongside Liberia and Papua New Guinea.

When I think of the blonde Mayer, her perky headshot appearing alongside every unpleasant story about her stance on flexible working arrangements for employees, I am reminded of that fluffy, synthetic tie that became a fashion must for working women in the 80s (click through to picture 11; there it is). I didn’t wear one; I was only 12. They were there, though, in all of the images I saw of women working nine to five in the media. That scarf-cum-tie legitimized women in the workplace—or, at least, that’s what the women buying them believed.

You know, because those floppy ties made women look more like men.

So Marissa Mayer depresses me because she seems less like a successful woman and more like a girl who thinks she has to dress up in the social customs and mores of a big boy in the boardroom circa 1984 in order to be perceived that way. She doesn’t owe other working mothers anything, I suppose, and if she believes the only way her employees or other captains of industry are going to take her seriously is if she plays the part of a workaholic hard-ass in the press, that’s on her.

But Mayer’s certainly no brave new breed of manager—or mother, for that matter. Maybe some of the sour press seeping under her office door will clue her in to as much. She isn’t even the woman who thought she had to wear a floppy tie to be taken seriously. But she’s a throwback, that's for sure—though more along the lines of Dabney Coleman than Jane Fonda. And that’s on her, too.

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