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Marissa Mayer Is The Right Dad For The Job


I worked from home Monday, and didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked. Sure, I put cover sheets on all my TPS reports, but a lot of to-dos fell by the wayside. When I heard the dishwasher stop running, I emptied it. Going upstairs for the iPad reminded me that I had to make the bed. The boys were home from school at 3:45pm. After that, they were knocking on the office door with fervent frequency—like Mormon missionaries on Red Bull. Of course, you can’t fault a 6-year-old for excitedly showing you his drawing of a purple tomato.

It’s for this reason that Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer sent a company-wide memo declaring that the company would no longer let employees work from home. “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” the memo reads. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

The backlash was immediate. The parent demographic was especially harsh on Mayer, whose son Macallister was born last September. There is no denying that moms handle the majority of the here-there-everywhere duties that telecommuting makes easier (doctor’s appointments, school visits, soccer practice, etc.). But as CEO, Mayer is not concerned that Erika from accounts receivable cannot get her son to his math tutor. She’s concerned about fixing a conglomerate on a steady decline. It’s a Fortune 500 outfit that dropped from #353 in 2008 to #483 in 2012. Last spring, Yahoo! shed 2,000 employees, roughly 14 percent of its workforce. Mayer is pulling out all the stops to right this ship (let’s call it the Wi-Fitanic), and her bold choices underscore what the company knew when they hired her: She’s the best dad for the job.

Mayer and the white-collar father have a lot in common. The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, an in-depth study by the Boston College Center for Work and Family (CWF), surveyed 963 dad executives at Fortune 100 companies. Like Mayer, the men in the study did not modify their work schedules after the birth of their most recent child. Seventy-six percent of dads took off one week or less after the baby was born. Mayer took two weeks maternity leave.

Parenthood did not alter the course of the dads’ careers, either. "Thirty percent of the wives [of the men in the study] dropped out of the workforce after having children," says Brad Harrington, director of CWF and a former executive at Hewlett-Packard. “By contrast, one dad out of the 963 we interviewed dropped out of the workforce.” That's .001 percent.

Does the dad executive do a good job balancing personal and professional? Not really. “They have a hard time putting two and two together to make four,” says Harrington. “Their thinking doesn’t add up.” Case in point: While 77 percent of fathers want to spend more time with their kids, 76 percent want a job with greater responsibility. This conflicted point of view reminds me of Mayer, who is building a nursery adjacent to her office.

“Corporate culture encourages men to be the primary breadwinners,” says Harrington. “When men have kids, the company expects them to double down on their efforts. Men increase their workload after baby. For women, it’s the opposite.”

But let’s be realistic. Everyone wants to pretend that you can work from home with the same intensity as you would in the office. It’s simply not true, and not because people are lazy, unmotivated, or forget to take their Ritalin. It’s because home is, well, home. It’s where the full dishwasher and unmade beds are. For most work-at-home parents, the workday ends when school ends. (OK, so you responded to a couple emails in the pick-up line. Add that to your resume.) In the office, it’s the presence of managers and peer pressure from colleagues that inspire drive and focus. In the office, you are present for the next big brainstorm. You are available for the next “Hey, as long as you’re here let’s [improve/troubleshoot/upgrade] the [product/service/doohickey].” Work is a professional marriage. Do you know a couple that would prefer a long-distance relationship over being together?

What does Harrington think about Mayer’s work-from-home ban? “She's making a mistake," he says. "It suggests that she’s naïve about management and insensitive to what balancing work and family entails.” 

When it comes to the modern dad and work-life balance, “a lot of guys think they’re going to be the one to break the mold and make it work.” It turns out the one truly breaking the mold is the 37-year-old female executive with a baby sleeping next to the copy machine.