The cycle has begun again— the media is in a tizzy about two news items regarding women in powerful positions in some pretty huge new media companies. First, it was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who recently released a memo to employees stating that Yahoo would begin banning work at home or telecommuting starting later this year. All employees would have to report to their prospective Yahoo offices if they wanted to continue being on the payroll. Many were shocked at Mayer’s insensitivity to work at home moms, especially since she is afforded an on-site nursery in her office. How dare she ban work at home moms, who might need to be at home so they could work and take care of their kids?
I, too, was dismayed by this news. But, in all fairness, moms aren’t the only ones that work at home. There are plenty of work at home dads too, so this was not an affront to women only. What we do not know is how many men are also affected by the change in Yahoo’s rules—instead of reporting it as a an “assault on work at home moms”, it should’ve been reported as a devalue of work at home or telecommuters, period. Sexual orientation shouldn’t have been the issue.
As a former HR manager, I’ve had to make a few announcements that were not popular. When you are dealing with the bottom-line, there are things that most onlookers and pundits may not be able to see. As a CEO of a company, Mayer is charged with making rules that could help the company in the long run—perhaps it is viable to think that those who work from home may not be as easily supervised as those who work in their actual offices.
It is my opinion that is it going to take more than banning working from home to improve Yahoo’s performance.
Why do we let the media work us up in such a way that the actual story becomes blurred and indistinct? Of course making Mayer’s ban an issue of work at home moms instead of the real truth (it affects everyone, working at home dads, et al) sells more copy and gets more page views.
The whole “women can’t have it all” story works it’s way into our psyche every few months. And it really irks me.
This past week, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg became the next fixture in this debate with her book, Lean In. In the book (which let me clarify, I have not read in full yet), Sandberg uncovers some real truths behind why women can’t break the glass ceiling—and some of those reasons have to do with women and how they don’t “lean in” enough.
Issue one: women don’t make the money men make because we don’t know how to negotiate salaries and ask for what we are worth. She would be correct. In 2011, I blogged about this very issue in a piece called When It Comes to the Gender Pay Gap, Women Don’t Ask for Raises. Sandberg’s proclamation shouldn’t come to a surprise for anyone who is worked in the corporate sector or has done payroll or managed employees. I think we all have seen this whether we are male or female.
Issue two: women don’t move ahead like men because when women are assertive, we aren’t liked. Again, this is no surprise. Men can be as mean and bossy and assertive as they please and be called a wunderkind and “passionate”. Women do it, and they are the B word. In order to change this, we have to change the perception of women and our roles. A woman is a sexual orientation—not an “attitude” or personality flaw. Men do not own power.
Issue three: when women talk about these things, they get labeled divisive, especially if you have had a stellar career like Sandberg. Again, she is right on the money. A lot of us like to talk a good game, but have it aired in public and it’s like spilling secrets.
So what’s the issue?
I think as women, we have to own our stories. We also have to own the way that they are reported on, and challenge them when those reports aren’t correct. Lean In and it’s premise is dead-on—there’s nothing polarizing about the content. So why is the media making this book seem like, again, a Battle of the Sexes, and most importantly, the Battle Between the Have and the Have-Nots? The Ambitious versus the Submissive?
Yes, Sandberg has had a stellar career. Yes, she’s successful. Yes she’s made major moves. Isn’t this who professional women should want to learn from? Someone that has broken the glass ceiling and continues to kick ass and take names? Not all women want to be the corporate giant, but then again, Lean In is about leaning in whatever it is you are doing. Leading with confidence and not fear.
And if this doesn’t pertain to you, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong; we all have different experiences.
Media, I am not going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe.
What’s say you?
For more Sheryl Sandberg, peep the video: