When she was first appointed CEO of Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) last year, Marissa Mayer seemed to bear the torch for working moms: becoming CEO of a major tech company in her 30s and announcing she was seven months pregnant. Mayer faces an uphill battle to revive the struggling company and is the sixth CEO in six years.
As a new CEO and new mom, Mayer is under extra scrutiny and her decision to end Yahoo’s work-from-home policy has created ripples throughout the corporate world.
Workers have reportedly called the move a “morale killer” and some say Mayer’s decision is unfriendly to working parents and has sparked debate over whether telecommuting really increased employee satisfaction and productivity.
Business Insider reports Mayer had a nursery built in her office at the tech company, further igniting the debate over work-life balance and telecommuting. A Yahoo spokesperson declined to comment on whether there is any truth to the report.
“We don't discuss internal matters. This isn't a broad industry view on working from home -- this is about what is right for Yahoo!, right now,” the company stated in an email to FOXBusiness.com.
Mayer made headlines for returning to work two weeks after giving birth in September 2012.
But John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas Mayer, says Mayer should be praised if the nursery report is true. He says she faces a big task of turning things around at the company.
“She wants and needs to dedicate long hours to fixing a company that has been broken. She ought to be commended and lauded. We are constantly decrying how women aren’t reaching the CEO-level, especially in their 30s during child-bearing years. She is doing the right thing and people are tearing her down.”
Like most tech companies, working remotely was very common at Yahoo, and the Huffington Post reports, “several former Yahoo employees are coming forward in support of Mayer, saying that some of the company's employees took the leniency around telecommuting too far.”
Challenger says the company needs a culture change, and whether or not Mayer has a nursery in her office is irrelevant.
“Telecommuting is great for working moms and dads, it allows them to balance their work and family needs,” he says. “I am all in favor of companies exploring and adding to their telecommuting options. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s wrong for a company to say, ‘We’ve got to change.’”
The conversation 37-year-old Mayer has started since beginning her tenure at Yahoo is important, says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and co-founder of MomsRising.org. But she says the move to ban telecommuting is antiquated.
“This is a digital media company going back to the 1950s,” Rowe-Finkbeiner says. “At a time when we need to be innovating to move forward for all families and for all businesses, they should be taking advantage of technologies to recruit and retain women in the labor force.”
Workers with access to flexible work options are more productive and loyal to their companies, she says, and working moms in particular face major discrimination in the labor force despite equal resumes and experience.
Having Mayer at the helm of Yahoo! as a new mom gave Rowe-Finkbeiner hope that the tide was turning. “It was an important point in history because there is significant wage and hiring discrimination in America against moms now,” she says. “And I do think it’s great if she has a nursery in her office. “
It’s not about Mayer’s alleged nursery, Rowe-Finkbeiner says, but instead about the options she has taken away from working parents.
“I have seen firsthand that remote working and caring for children is highly effective,” Rowe-Finkbeiner says. “Many jobs can be done better in that way, when we trust our coworkers and employees. Looking at results and not just punching in a clock.”
Challenger adds that CEOs often get extra perks that aren’t extended to the rest of the staff, and argues Mayer is taking more heat because she is a woman.
“What about Warren Buffet who gets a corporate jet? Does that mean every employee gets one?” he says. “A nursery in her office should be cheered.”