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Yahoo's return to the Industrial Revolution

POSTED March 1, 2013 7:57 p.m.

In January, the Journal relaunched its Women in Business publication after a four-year hiatus. When the advertising department first suggested bringing back this section, I was a little hesitant.

Most of the women I know who hold leadership positions in their respective careers consider themselves professionals. Not women professionals. And all of the women interviewed for this year's special publication voiced the same opinion; gender was not a factor in their daily professional lives.

But then every so often a story comes around that brings gender and the workplace into the spotlight, and that's exactly what happened when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer abolished the company's work-at-home policy and ordered everyone to show up at the office.

Mayer's decision has sparked a national conversation on workplace flexibility and the f-word — I'm referring to feminist, of course.

A few years ago, the White House launched a national conversation on workplace flexibility, as research had shown that a good work-life fit was a challenge that faced many employees, both men and women. Many companies — especially in the tech industries — started work-from-home or flex work schedules to be attractive to top talent looking for the best benefits a company can offer.

And these policies took off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, 24 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work at home. Men and women were about equally likely to do some or all of their work at home in 2010—22.9 percent of employed men compared with 24.5 percent of employed women. And multiple jobholders were nearly twice as likely to work at home as were single jobholders in 2010—39 percent compared with 22 percent.

This blending of work and home life is what many feminists — that f-word, again — have been fighting to return to ever since the Industrial Revolution suddenly made work a distant place that only men went off to do. Before the Industrial Revolution, industry was created at home and ran by both men and women — in the midst of child rearing and household responsibilities.

It's interesting to me that if you ask the average American woman today, between the ages of 16 and 50, if they're a feminist the resounding answer will be no. Most women in this age range grew up in a society where women were not only allowed, but encouraged to pursue jobs in all fields and professions. But instead of thanking the Betty Friedans and Gloria Steinems for making this possible, many women insist that they earned their position solely on their talent and ability to compete alongside their male counterparts. Mayer is one of these women.

In an interview for the PBS show titled "Makers: Women Who Make America," Mayer said this:

"I don't think that I would consider myself a feminist. ... I certainly believe in equal rights. I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions. But I don't ... have sort of the militant drive and ... the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it's too bad, but I do think 'feminism' has become, in many ways, a more negative word. ... There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there's more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy."

Okay, so Mayer has succeeded in business due to the "positive energy" she has created or been around, rather than any advances in gender equality in the workplace earned through the feminist movement. I can respect that opinion — except for one thing;  Mayer seems to disregard the wealth factor in her "Makers" statement and the new Yahoo work-only-at-the-office policy.

Mayer villainizes feminists by saying those who identify with the word as having a "militant drive" or a "chip on the shoulder." She doesn't acknowledge the feminists who are stuck trying to care for a family while being the sole financial support, or the second income in a family that needs two incomes just to make ends meet.

And she is blatantly throwing class disparity in her Yahoo employees' faces by building a nursery at her office so she can care for her baby at the workplace while those who work under her have to make hard decisions about childcare and loss of income.

Work schedules that allow for balance between professional and family lives are a win-win for society. Employees who are not tied down to a desk  are happier and therefore spend more time focusing on innovation and productivity rather than surfing job websites for a better position. And happy employees who are able to spend time with their children and loved ones are less likely to need tax-payer funded social services or police intervention.

Mayer needs to take the Industrial Revolution-sized chip off her shoulder and come into the 21st Century workplace before all the talent left at Yahoo migrates to greener — and more flexible —pastures.

This column is the opinion of Kristina Hacker and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.

 

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