Women and men cheered when Marissa Mayer was named the CEO of Yahoo!, although it seemed fitting that a company located in Silicon Valley -- perhaps the modern day birthplace of ingenuity, creativity and rewarding employees for creative innovations -- would choose to hire the best person for the job. Shortly after this announcement, it was revealed that Mayer's was pregnant with her first child -- again, applause from the crowd for an enlightened choice. Then the mystique around Mayer's seemed to fade when she announced she was taking a self-imposed shortened maternity leave.
Women were worried that she was setting a bad precedent for pregnant employees who would be criticized for taking the full maternity leave they were entitled to. I felt this was her personal decision and one that would not impact other pregnant employees, as I favor the ability to have choices in all areas of my life. If another working woman wants to make a choice different from the one I would make, so be it.
Since then, an HR memo discontinuing Yahoo!'s policy of allowing employees to work from home has surfaced. I am totally flabbergasted since I truly thought a working mom with a young child would surely understand the needs of other working moms. I've heard it argued that Mayer's didn't ask to be a role model for working women. Maybe so, but that doesn't mean that she isn't one. Athletes don't ask to be role models either, but by virtue of their position in society they are, and they need to act accordingly. This is no less true for Marissa Meyers.
Mayer's is a working mom and a female CEO of one of the most recognized companies in the world. No one will argue that she is trying to turn around a company that had been run into the ground. It is also understood that she is not engaged in a popularity contest. However, abruptly changing a popular company policy that potentially impacts the majority of your employees, both women and men (because work-life balance is a family issue not just a "women's issue") in what appears to be an insensitive, reactive policy, begs some serious re-thinking.
Leaders know it is "how" you execute change that is just as important as the actual change you are implementing. If people feel part of the dialogue surrounding any change, they are more likely to support it. Study after study also shows that flexibility is one of the key variables for recruiting and retaining talent -- for both men and women. I can't help but wonder how Yahoo! will recruit and retain talent in an environment where most, if not all, of Yahoo!'s competitors value creativity and innovation more than "face time." Yahoo! could have instituted a policy where all employees must work on-site on specific day(s). In addition, team building exercise programs outside the office promote the type of collaboration Yahoo! is seeking in an informal and perhaps more effective way than what occurs when people pass each other in the hallways, often pressed for time.
Yes, Yahoo!'s argument that employees need to communicate and collaborate with each other is true. But the way to go about engineering this collaborative effort is not by abruptly banning your employees ability to work from home. This is just ludicrous.
YooHoo YaHoo!, get real!