Leaving Gender at the Door

February 26, 2013 § 110 Comments

Interviewer:  So, why do you write these strong female characters?
Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Because you’re still asking me that question.

What I see whenever I sit at my desk at home.

What I see whenever I sit at my desk at home.


NSFYE (Not Safe For Yahoo! Employees)

So, Marissa Mayer banned working from home for her Yahoo! employees. Hilarity ensued.  Not really. More like polarization between women has intensified.  I have a vague sense male CEOs and workers are sitting down with popcorn to watch the catfight and go “Rawr.”

I worry that our reactions, no matter how well-intended and articulate and based in truths, aren’t wholly productive.  Why is it more outrageous for a female CEO to ban flextime than for a male CEO?  I don’t think it is.  It’s a questionable business decision, and only time will tell if it is a good one, but would the outrage be as severe if it came from a man?  I doubt it, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Let’s talk about the policy itself.  It constricts parents of both genders.  It constricts adults of both genders.  It constricts any male or female who would like to enjoy the benefit of staying home with a sick kid, taking an aging parent to the doctor, or giving blood at a time that is convenient for them.  In this post I wrote last June, I posited the following:

Ideally, in order for one spouse to have true flexibility in and control over his or her scheduling, the other spouse would have it, too.  Because for every mother I know who needs flexibility to support her career, I know a father who needs flexibility to support his family life.  For every mother who needs control over her schedule so she can present a case in court or put on a hard hat and climb into the sewers, there is a father who needs flexibility to leave work early to coach his daughter’s softball team or make dinner while the mother is making closing arguments.

Let’s talk about the person who issued the policy.  Marissa Mayer never claimed to be a pioneer/crusader for the family-friendly workplace.  Au contraire.  I think she made it very clear from the time she was hired that work was her priority. Frankly, this policy change doesn’t surprise me at all.  My friend, Elissa Freeman, wrote a piece defending Mayer, and even expressed the hope that

(m)aybe, just maybe, Mayer has a grander plan. Once she has the credibility of saving a company and winning the respect of Wall Street, she will have the potential of standing on an even grander soapbox for carving out family friendly policies. Policies that even the old boys will have to take into consideration.

Maybe, though I doubt she will, because that is not who she claimed to be or what she claims to want.

I understand having higher hopes for a female CEO of such a large company.  (I, too, cheer a little louder for the underdog when they break through barriers, whether it is a female CEO, a gay couple getting a marriage license, or the New York Mets breaking .500.)   Yet, just because a person is in possession of a uterus doesn’t mean she also possesses wisdom, empathy, or vision.  As a matter of fact, I know of plenty of women who hurt the causes of gender equity and families in general.  Last January, I decried a new rule by the Federal Reserve making credit cards available based on individual, rather than household income. In that post, I was urging women to get more involved in politics.  Then, I did more research on the Federal Reserve.  Three of the five members at the time were women.

It’s understandable women feel thrown under the bus by one of their own.  I’m disappointed, too.  But I’m inclined to be cautious with my criticism.  I fear we do more harm than good by having different expectations for women in power than men.  I worry when we criticize a person rather than a policy.  I don’t want to cloud the very important issue of family-friendly work-places and productivity by calling Marissa Mayer on the carpet for being a FEMALE who made a certain decision rather than a CEO who made a certain decision.  Counterintuitive as it seems, advancing gender equity might be better achieved by leaving gender OUT of it.


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§ 110 Responses to Leaving Gender at the Door

  • Elissa Freeman says:

    Love the way you extended this story so brilliantly (and not just cuz you quoted me lol!). The Yahoo board didn’t choose Marissa Mayer because she was a woman – they chose her because she was smart. Or at least we hope she is!

  • I think Marissa is a bit of a lightening rod because she is a woman, but if a man did this I think there would be an outcry as well. I am concerned mostly about other companies and the culture at large thinking this is a policy that’s ok because it’s been given “credibility” by the actions of Yahoo.

  • Yet, just because a person is in possession of a uterus doesn’t mean she also possesses wisdom, empathy, or vision. <—this is a very good point because I think a lot of women do expect that of other women….And when they don't deliver, we react harshly. This is not to say that I agree with Mayer's policy, but I do think it would be received differently had a male implemented it.

    Insightfut post—congrats on being FP! 🙂

    • I’ll take it one further–having a uterus does not automatically flip the Baby Making Desire Switch, either. And, boy, do ladies endure a steaming pile for deciding not to procreate. For me, there was no decision necessary: I was born with zero desire to change diapers. Relationship, yes. Sex, hell, yes. Children, “Check, please!”

      But I also have no desire to rebuild combustion engines, prepare French hors d’ oeuvres, or compete in the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon. It doesn’t automatically mean I’m against mechanics, chefs, or athletes or am unsympathetic to their needs. I may not be intimately familiar with the particulars of their life, but I’ll still vote every time for their right to make the best life they possibly can for themselves.

      Regardless of whether an individual is a working parent, a woman, or anything else from the enormous grab bag that is the population of Earth, one thing has shown itself to be true since the emergence of homosapiens: allowing a responsible, dedicated individual the freedom to work when and how is best for them yields remarkable benefits for everyone across the board. And conversely, shoving a square peg into a round hole hurts the peg, weakens the hole, and causes a negative ripple effect across the globe that only benefits psychotherapists and funeral parlors.

      Mayer is a fool.

  • Not what I expected, but a very interesting read. I didn’t even know about these issues before, and now I have something new to research! Kudos.

  • eroshiyda says:

    “[a]dvancing gender equity might be better achieved by leaving gender OUT of it.”

    ^This. I was waiting for you to say it, and you put it in your last sentence. I can’t wait until people start treating other people like people, regardless of what’s between their legs. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  • Interesting post. I’d not really heard about this issue at Yahoo being a big deal, but the affect it has on families and the fact that the CEO is a woman is an interesting angle.

    My wife and I struggle with sharing turns taking unexpected days off to stay home for sickness, snow days, etc. It’s a colossal pain in the ass, quite frankly.

    We both work so we both have to sacrifice equally. Simple as that at our house. I imagine not so much in other homes though.

    • It’s funny, Don, because (maybe because of the social media circles in which I travel) it seems all I was reading was outrage about the policy, its impact on working moms, and how much more outrageous it was to have come from a woman. It IS a pain in the ass, but it sounds like you’re working out a nice balance. Imagine how much harder it would be to be a single parent in this situation. So glad you stopped by!

  • Very true. Gender is much like race in that regard – as soon as you introduce it into the conversation, it becomes about race, rather than the subject matter.

  • It seems people are really applying a double standard to Ms. Mayer. She’s just making a business decdision that she feels is right. I’m sure there are plenty of men who would do the same thing. The commentary we’re having on said decision, to me, seems somehow out of context becuase of the gender issue.
    But that’s just my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

  • fireandair says:

    THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU for saying this. There is a huge difference between the way women tolerate male missteps fondly and with patience and rip women to shreds for the same ones. If a man instituted this policy, women would grumble, complain, and say, “Wait and see if he changes his mind.” If he did, they’d fall all over him praising him and fussing him like he was the second coming.

    A woman making a misstep like this? Kill her, drown her, I want her to die, I hope her entire life falls apart.

    Women are the backbone of the patriarchy. We whine about how perfect we have to be — be twice as good to be thought half as good, etc. — and it turns out it’s us holding up the double standard. Our behavior towards others of our own is insane.

  • Marc Winger says:

    This isn’t an issue of gender. For right or wrong, it’s all about a new boss coming in, shaking things up (that obviously need shaking) & employees pushing back; whether because they were hired with the expectation (or promise) that they could work from home or because they don’t want to alter their lives because an incoming boss “has a good idea”. Painting this all any other way is not a good idea.
    It’s all a simple thing that happens all the time.

  • Marc Winger says:

    (fyi, When a normal commenter with good intentions submits a comment & then sees that the comment needs to be approved/moderated before it’s posted, they won’t bother to comment again. There’s no reason for moderating.

    • Really? Okay, thank you for the info! And thank you for coming back to let me know. 🙂

    • fireandair says:

      I found myself in moderation and commented again, right beneath you. And when one talks about anything even remotely related to feminism, moderation is a REALLY IMPORTANT THING or else the comments section turns into a sewer very quickly.

      I’ve never felt insulted or turned away by comment moderation in my life.

      • Marc Winger says:

        Then you’re in the minority. Comment threads need paying attention to, I think we all know that. Micromanaging (insisting on approval) comments is just as bad as letting things go unattended. That’s why there are settings for disabling comments on every hosting site, blocking ip’s, blocking types of words, etc. This is all common knowledge. There are many hot topics that will inspire loads of comments.

      • Guess I’m in the minority, too! Even Kveller.com and HuffPo moderate their comments. Never bothers me…but I am taking your advice, Marc, into serious consideration. Thank you, again.

      • Marc Winger says:

        You will do as you please, good luck. But remember, even one annoyed commenter is one that will never return. I’m not familiar w/ HuffPo, I would never visit their site because of their politics. The most successful comment threads in the US & UK don’t require scrutiny before posting. Some require membership or otherwise. CNN has different requirements for a few of their sections.
        At least, you’re a natural diplomat. Maybe that will compensate for viewer losses. Thanks! (I’ll be visiting your blog at least one more time, ideologues are a favorite of mine.)

      • Hahaha – I think my tendency towards diplomacy really irks some…but I take what you say as a compliment. And I genuinely appreciate the advice.

      • fireandair says:


        Have a nice day!

  • Joyce says:

    While it’s a disappointing policy coming from any CEO of any gender, I think that a CEO’s focus has to be on the effectiveness of the workplace. But still…it is troublesome to me that a CEO in 2013 does not recongize that enabling her employees to maintain balance might actually strengthen the workplace.

  • I’ve been reading a lot about this policy. I’m still not sure whether I agree with it or not, but it strikes me that Mayer can’t win either way. Some stories have suggested that low productivity is a well-known problem, and if she didn’t address that she would get flack for being an incompetent CEO. But by banning working at home, she gets flack for not caring about family issues or work-life balance.

    I’m not sure if a male CEO would get the same kind of flack for doing the same thing.

    (And FWIW almost every blog I visit has a moderation policy for comments, which doesn’t seem to discourage repeat commentators. I would suggest that “the minority” is posters who are offended by these policies.)

    • Thanks, Fiona – I’m with you – I feel ill-equipt to know what’s right at that particular company, but what has been made public (especially the text of the memo itself and its insulting wording) certainly makes me glad I don’t work for them.

      And your opinion on comment moderation is very helpful, too. 😉

  • lexy3587 says:

    Great argument. Much as it’d be nice if all women in high-power positions were thinking about a family friendly workplace, it shouldn’t be assumed that she should, just because she’s a woman. far better that we should expect All high-powered positions to be filled with people who take family friendly issues into account when making their decisions.

  • Meg says:

    As women it’s easy for us to take these kinds of things as attacks on our gender. I really appreciated you looking at it from an unbiased, ungendered point of view!

  • Well said.

    I blogged this as well. The one piece missing here — and only commenter so far touched on it — everyone wants flexibility, not just the “get out of jail card” of kids or aging/ill parents/spouse. This drives me (no kids, by choice) mad, as if the only worthwhile use of our time is as unit of labor at home changing diapers or making stuff profitable for an employer.

    We need flexibility in our lives for a host of important reasons, (beyond the undeniable needs of children or other dependents), to: shop for, cook and consume healthy fresh food, lose weight and stay healthy (it actually takes time from one’s day); to regularly visit our physicians and other healthcare professionals in order to stay strong and healthy, maintain our social and professional networks in a time of insane job instability and stagnant wages; take care of our own mental and emotional health by “simply” spending time with loved ones, whether a pet or partner; doing volunteer work and even finding/making time to re-train/study for your 2nd or 3rd or 5th career as your work plans got derailed by three recessions in 20 years.

    We’re human beings, not merely units of labor! As usual in American “debate” about “balance” it quickly becomes a cat-fight instead of a larger questioning of a corporatist mindset and passive social and economic policies that place shareholder value above every other consideration.

    Stepping off of soapbox…sorry!

  • yes, still quite perplexed why she (mayer) decided to go that route but I guess we shall see. I think its a control thing from her front. you may be onto something if a man had done it, probably not a big idea but well worth describing. good job on this post. some thoughts to think through for sure

  • nedkelly944 says:

    Sorry! I got half way through the comments and got fed up. Gender is not a sensible issue if we get down to the real objectives. It does not matter. In every situation there are three things – Objective – Plan – Execution. Whoever. regardless of their physical orientation, can do that with the most success should be selected to do so. I will add that the reluctance of companies to allow workers to do so from home only shows a severe lack of confidence by the management, in that, ‘They can’t possibly do it unless I watch them’. Consider the benefits gained from time lost travelling to work, carbon footprint, smaller and less expensive workspace… I could go on ad infinitum. Insecurity is the main problem by managementand, by the individual and by the petty gender issue. The sooner we accept the right person for the job on results the better.

  • aka gringita says:

    “I worry when we criticize a person rather than a policy. ” Agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I personally am appalled by the decision, and it has nothing to do with who made it or the personal life balance issues that it engenders (so to speak). Yes, there are times when being at the office and having the opportunity to interface with colleagues and learn from one another (the ostensible purpose of the policy) is important. And certainly not every employee (by role or by personality) is suited to working at home and still delivering quality work. But neither is every employee suited to the constant networking, constant interruptions, constant adjusting that is currently required in the in-office setting. I prefer to work in the office most of the time, partly due to easier configuration and faster network access and partly because face-to-face is sometimes required. But some smaller % of the time I NEED to be able to unplug from my colleagues for focused, uninterrupted project work. (Introverts of the workforce unite!)

    Plus I’m pretty sure the company *I* work for values being able to get me to work at home when inclement weather keeps me from being able to get to, or even shuts down, the office. Add caretaker issues for those that have them, and it’s just bad policy all around. I sincerely hope other companies don’t follow suit and make such sweeping decisions.

  • Excellent points Aliza particularly review of policy rather than the person implementing them.

  • herringkeisha says:

    I think the bigger issue here is the double standard being projected on Marissa Mayor. It’s unfair that she is being judged because she is a woman rather than the policy not being a bright idea.

  • heathmak says:

    Interesting post and kudos for bringing the topic out to discuss. Marissa Mayer was hired as CEO to turn the struggling company around, with that huge challenges and CHANGES. No one likes change and its not easy especially when it effects families. However in our current economy with so many people looking for a job I have to say, a flexible job, such as working from home is a fantastic benefit not necessary a right. Its unfortunate but some employees will have to make the decisions to stay at Yahoo or enter the job hunting world. After all I’m sure most are employees at will. Besides when a company is performing well there are pay increases, bonuses and other benefits that comes with success.
    As someone who has worked for some really great companies who provided great benefits and other companies who were stingy, it really makes you appreciate the good companies with great perks. It would incentives me to work a little harder everyday so those benefits don’t get cut from the company. Unfortunately the bad apples in a company who were underperforming while working from home could have spoiled it for the rest of the hard working employees. Bringing all the employees back to the office daily to work will bring more productivity in the long run. But they will lose employees whose families need to flexibility. Life is all about choices.Those employee now have choices to make.

  • kittyscafe says:

    wow! I totally agree with you that by singling out Marissa Mayer and making a huge deal of the situation because she is a female is counterintuitive in the gender equality issue! We often do point out when a female executive does something good, which shows that female are as competent. However, when situations like this happens, it does seem to be criticizing the situation due to the fact that Marissa is a female. There definitely is a fine line in how gender equality is promoted. I’m glad to see that there are others who share this view as I do.

  • marymtf says:

    I think it’s the banning of flextime that is outrageous not the gender of the person making such a decision. We are used to male CEOs getting things wrong and just as happy to complain. If people are outraged because a woman has made a bad decision, I can only imagine that it’s because for years women have been singing ‘anything mere men can do we can do better.’ Liked your post. 🙂

  • Jean says:

    “Why is it more outrageous for a female CEO to ban flextime than for a male CEO? I don’t think it is. It’s a questionable business decision, and only time will tell if it is a good one, but would the outrage be as severe if it came from a man? I doubt it, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing”

    Tough one but I don’t agree entirely on a rigid stance against flextime for everything. It will bite her back personally one day when she needs it herself.

    And I’m a woman who has no children.

    • Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. And the thing I’m not sure is good (sorry if that wasn’t clear) is that there seems to be more vitriol directed towards her about this decision because she is a woman. Not the decision itself. Only time will tell if the decision is a good one. 🙂

  • It’s a good move she made, it was a logical decision. It’s clearly tough for a lot of people to work their best from home…It’s a privilege and not a right. Lot’s of jobs don’t even have that option

  • this was awesome just so good thanks for writing it couldn’t have lived with out hearing that

  • Storm says:

    I feel Marissa is just trying to save Yahoo. She’s there to turn the company around, she will probably try anything that Yahoo was not doing to make that happen. This is like when she didn’t want to be on a cover of magazine pregnant, she wants to be seen as a business woman. We don’t ever go “Why hasn’t that male CEO ever posed with his children on the cover of a magazine. He needs to appear to be more of a family man.” Lets see if this works as a business strategy before we judge it.

  • Otrazhenie says:

    Very well balanced post. Liked it a lot.

  • segmation says:

    It is nice to see this kind of writing. Do you have a favorite you like to write about?

    • What a nice compliment! Thank you! For your question, you know, it’s funny – the Liberty category has stuff that I absolutely need to write or I feel like I will explode. The Life and Happiness categories have things I absolutely love to write. So happy you stopped by and commented!

  • slamadams says:

    What is this? Rationality? On the internet? Quick, take a blurry picture of it walking through the snow, we’ll make millions.

  • […] Leaving Gender at the Door. […]

  • If we objectively wait and see whether her decision to ban flextime improves Yahoo, then we are treating her like any other CEO. I don’t question the decision because she is female, I question it because it seems so old-fashioned and counter-productive.
    BUT … maybe there are indicators that flex is being abused by her staff and she needs to find out if they get more done in a standard environment, or if collaboration is a key to success.

  • kcaptain77 says:

    A well written and thought out post eliciting thought provoking commentary. I am all for taking the gender out of it. We are all in this big boat together and can either work together or go in unfocused circles.

  • I think it is a difficult society that we live in, particularly for parents of young children. I say parents because I don’t think men have the opportunities for flexible working arrangements either in most cases. Surely society would benefit as a whole if the majoirty of workplaces were family-friendly, as opposed to the current minority.

    I wrote a blog post recently about the discrimination of women in the workplace when it comes to hiring and ongoing employment. It is often taken into account when employing women whether they are likely to ‘breed’ in the near future or if they have children that may get sick. In Australia (where I live), it is illegal to discriminate, but it still happens all the time. And the men are just expected to get on with it and do the traditional full-time role, while the mother juggles by herself. It is all very unequal and unfair for everyone.

    If you are interested in reading my blog post, you can find it here at http://mummylovestowrite.com/2013/02/26/discrimination-of-women-in-the-workplace/. Hopefully it is ok that I posted the link

  • It’s extremely difficult, for all the reasons you state here. And I don’t mind at all that you posted the link! Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  • Thanks for your point of view! I totally agree.

  • […] Leaving Gender At The Door: That would explain that bucket of vaginas hanging off the mailbox. […]

  • Wasn’t she pregnant when she took this job? Is that the same woman? I bet she’s got a nanny. 🙂

  • I love your post. I haven’t made my mind about leaving gender out yet, but I agree that we can not have different expectations for each gender. I think women are still judged different than men, but I can also imagine the tabloids going crazy if that decision had been made by a men. We, women, have still many places to conquer in the ladder of equality, one of them is having a Female US president, but I feel it is coming.

  • Everyone no matter the position has to answer to someone else, there are commitee and boards..it’s simply easier to blaim only one person! But i agree with you and this post is great :advancing gender equity might be better achieved by leaving gender OUT of it.

  • Andrea says:

    Well said. I especially agree, when you say that just because a woman is a woman it doesn’t mean that she will fight for other women’s causes. Indeed we should question the policies, and not those who create them, but then again, how do you make that separation?

    • It’s very hard. I can understand having the different expectations for different genders, based on their most common experiences. Still, though, I try not to be angrIER that I would be if a man had made the same decision.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  • Nice Enlightening Post. I am rooting for the new Yahoo CEO.

  • interesting post 🙂

  • Lylin Connor says:

    Reblogged this on Lylin's Mind and commented:
    Don’t you just love Joss Whedon?

  • Himani Gupta says:

    The most impressive line of your post:
    ‘Counterintuitive as it seems, advancing gender equity might be better achieved by leaving gender OUT of it.’
    I loved it.

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