By Bat Sheva Marcus
Marissa Mayer has been blasted as of late because of her move to get the Yahoo employees back into the office. There are any number of groups viciously attacking her, some with fairly reasonable arguments but many with purely ad hominem attacks. One group that seems to be on the war path are the feminists who seem to feel that equality somehow comes with an inbuilt guarantee of job flexibility and a work-from-anywhere approach. Sorry. As a fellow feminist, I respectfully disagree.
First of all I am very sympathetic to Ms. Mayer's concern that less work happens when people are habitually working from home. I think the reality is that, like everything else in life, there is certainly a variation on the productivity of those whose who work from home. My experience, however, both personally and watching employees and friends, is that it becomes awfully easy to justify non-work time when you are working from home. Yes. I do understand that sometimes at 10 at night you are working and that makes you feel really noble. But it doesn’t make up for the two hours you wasted during the day getting distracted. Even if there are some saints who can really clock in the full eight hour work day without getting sidetracked, most people don’t or can't. And, like it or not, employers need to work on the top part of the bell curve and make rules that can pertain to everyone.
Second, even if you feel that people can get an equal amount of work done at home, there is something magical that happens when people share space. They often end up sharing ideas, creativity, information, wisdom. That just can’t be duplicated.
On the other hand, I am a feminist and I do believe the workplace should be made more parent-friendly. And so… I am thrilled and delighted that on days when my childcare is compromising my work (I need to make a chumash play at 10 a.m. Who schedules these things? My daughter wakes up with a 102 degree fever. Really? Now you get sick? On a day I have a major meeting? Or my babysitter has a crises.) I can lessen the burden on myself and my employer by using all the nifty new work-from-home options. I can log in to my work computer. I can log onto a meeting. I can share documents. Life is good. But that is very different from demanding that those work habits become the norm for all of us all the time.
I believe that as feminists we can demand a certain amount of flexibility and give from the workplace. In the end, that flexibility will make our life more pleasant and make us more productive to our work environment. But I think we shoot ourselves in the foot when we demand changes that may work for us but may have a detrimental effect on the workplace as a whole. And I think, as feminists who want to be taken seriously we need to keep our own needs and desire in perspective.
So go you… Marissa Mayer. Stand up for what you believe in. You don’t owe anyone, including your fellow feminists, anything but your integrity.