Yahoo’s Work-at-Home Ban: Why It’s a Working-Dad Issue Too

Flexible work isn't solely a women's issue. It's a feminist issue, built on expanding opportunities for both sexes

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Simon Dawson / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo, attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 25, 2013

After my first son was born, I made a deal to start working from home at least part of the week. Part of the decision was emotional: I just didn’t want to be one of those dads I’d seen, spending the week in a Midtown box going to meetings and making late magazine closes, all for the knowledge that my salary paid for a baby I’d only see asleep or on the weekends.

But a lot of it was practical. Everyone tells you kids are expensive. They don’t tell you that the biggest expense is time. I work; my wife works. Somebody has to shop, wake up early, make meals, shuttle a kid around. My wife arranged a work schedule that helped accommodate that; as someone who writes for a living, this was something I could do too. As a TV critic, I can work anywhere with cable, a laptop and a place to charge a cell phone. I can drop off a kid at school in the morning and be at my desk writing by 8:30 a.m. I can cram in a full day’s work, and then some, without meetings, doorway chat or the hour-plus it takes to transport my body back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I can cook (or reheat) a dinner, I can make an emergency pickup. Best of all, I can see my kids while they’re awake.

I recognize that not every job — or every person — is equally suited to working from home. But I can say, from experience, that it suits me as a working father.

(MORE: Viewpoint: How Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Is Building a Nursery by Her Office, and Dissing Working Moms)

Yet the debate over the decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to eliminate working from home across the board has been critiqued almost entirely from the perspective of working mothers. Here’s Salon: “Working from home is a women’s issue.” Here’s CNN: “A Work-at-Home Mom Defends Yahoo’s Mayer.” Here, a TIME column says Mayer is “Dissing Working Moms.” And here’s a little inclusivity: the Chicago Tribune says Mayer is taking away flexibility from “other moms (and dads).”

Those parentheses pretty much say it all. Maybe you daddy-tracked yourself, guys. Maybe there are promotions you passed up, projects you decided not to take, paths that went unfollowed because of your priorities. But at the end of the day, you’re still: “(and dads).”

Part of the reason for the moms-only framing of the issue, I’m sure, is that Mayer took the job while she was pregnant and was then conscripted as the Next Leap Forward for working mothers. The blanket ban on working from home happened to leak as reports emerged of her installing a nursery next to her office, making her an even bigger target. Another part is that working mothers do still take on more of the work and time of parenting than working fathers. They are doing more of the dropping off and picking up, fielding the doctor visits and sick days; practically, then, they’re more broadly affected.

(MORE: The Memo Read Round the World: Yahoo Says No to Working at Home)

But anybody who cares about feminism — not including Mayer, to judge from her past comments — should be conscious of a major reason that working mothers still carry more of the weight: because of societal expectations that women should put family first and men should put work first, that a woman nurtures and a man provides. That women should find fulfillment at home and men at the office. That in a heterosexual marriage, women provide the backup income and men the backup parent. On sitcoms, in movies, in commercials, we still constantly see the message that men are comical and incompetent as parents, that a dude wearing a Baby Bjorn is hilarious, that guys don’t know how to change diapers, that a stay-at-home father is a curiosity, an asterisk, a comic-relief figure who gets points just for trying.

All those signals are reinforced every time someone, even with the best intentions, frames work balance as a “woman’s issue.” For starters, it’s just untrue: men gain no more from unbalanced lives then women do. Forget fathers who work from home (or stay at home altogether), though there are ever more of them. Even if you’re the parent who doesn’t work from home, if your spouse suddenly can’t, that’s your problem too.

(MORE: Marissa Mayer: Irrelevant ‘Superwoman’ or Agent of Change?)

There’s also a pragmatic reason not to label flexible-work programs as just somethin’ for the ladies. The more people are invested in a good idea, the more people will agitate for it. Just like parental leave and any number of other simple decencies marked as “women’s benefits,” men can gain from them too. Why not remind them they have a stake in it — as do, for that matter, childless workers who’d rather get more done in less time at home?

Flexible work isn’t solely a women’s issue. It is a feminist issue, though, in the sense that feminism is about expanding opportunities for both sexes. People think it’s about taking from men and giving to women, and that “male feminists” are self-sacrificing against their own interests. That’s not so: when you limit women’s opportunities, you limit men’s too — at least, men’s opportunities to be anything but stereotypes. Flexible work is a men’s issue, a women’s issue and a kids’ issue. But more than that, it’s a perfect example of why men should be feminists. Because there’s something in feminism for us too.

MORE: We Have to Stop Talking About ‘Having It All’

82 comments
arvay
arvay

One of the worst business decisions I've seen for some time.

What Yahoo is saying is that the digital way of working is useless for many businesses. We all still need to huddle together in small groups and  be watched closely by managers.

Yahoo is failing for the usual reason -- management has screwed up.

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

Its a wise idea to begin working at home for a prestigeous earing before or after retirement for  both the male and female ones as that I'm planning for myself to do.in near future.

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JWhitaker09
JWhitaker09

@TIME this shouldn't even be an issue. Male or female, working from home is a benefit not a given right for working at a tech company.

Elliesfab
Elliesfab

@TIME @timeideas in our house it is a mum issue BECAUSE the dad is the main carer flexible working is the only way I get to see the babies

CathiCarol
CathiCarol

@poniewozik Feminism has been characterized as a men's issue, too, since day one. It was men who rejected that idea. So women speak of self.

BCCWF
BCCWF

@poniewozik thanks for bringing the dads perspective! Men often left out of #worklife conversation #TheNewDad study http://t.co/3qHKHZV3Tl

Rotosnitter
Rotosnitter

Working at the office benefits mostly the executives. It makes them look good and feeds their egos. The idea that creativity happens in meetings and not at home is ridiculous. Meetings waste time and are inefficient. Collaborations can easily happen at home through various communications techn

tn5rr2012
tn5rr2012

I work from home helping people start their family trees and I do it well, I prefer this way of life but I also can work in an office setting.  It's a matter of bending with the branches of life when the wind blows, you do what you have to do to get by

Start Your Family Tree w/ Me!
http://fiverr.com/tn5rr2012

Lisa van Vliet
Lisa van Vliet

I am much, much, much more efficient when I work from home - no commute (less time wasted & less tired), I get more done with fewer distractions from activity in the office @John A. Schumacher

Madhavi Anant Jha
Madhavi Anant Jha

You can't be stupid enough to think there is only one right way.

MarkoBrennan
MarkoBrennan

Many silly comments. The modern workforce is more distributed, and many people do a lot of great work, from home. If you think you have to suit up and go to the office to do real work, you're a dinosaur.

However, Marissa Mayer has a huge job on her hands: modernize and motivate an older, slower, tired and demotivated workforce. This cannot be done without generating a strong buzz around the campus. It's got to feel like a startup - like 1997 - all over again. This is not something that can be accomplished by a pyjamas and Webex workforce.

If you're a manager at a bank or a healthcare company, or a tech company that's past its startup phase - the work from home policy will work great. As long as you fire underperforming employees.

If you're a manager a really slack ass company where people are like government workers, forget it. Employees will stay home and watch TV. silicon Valley does not have people like this, not for long anyway.

John A. Schumacher
John A. Schumacher

You all can't be stupid enough to think that working from home is efficient?

Ash Corleone
Ash Corleone

Its a race u know those people can't make any decision

Ash Corleone
Ash Corleone

Call it whatever you want loyalty service

Jennifer Beebe
Jennifer Beebe

Businesses are expecting employees to put in more hours and to always be "on call" and responding with smartphones. The ability to have flex hours or work from home at times is a necessary requirement these days for employees who are held to this standard. An 8-5 workday no longer exists in most corporations. If flex time and/or the ability to work from home occasionally as needed is removed, then they need to provide employees with some type of other outlet to maintain their work/life balance (as imbalanced as it is these days)... be it more PTO or something else.

Jesus Hernandez
Jesus Hernandez

May be if it's short term but if it permanent I see this a a regression

Jane Meyers
Jane Meyers

Yep. Thanks for this piece. It's also very much an issue for boomers, with or without children. I'm sure there are employees who have to take care of/watch for their parents and/or elderly relatives with similar issues: supervision, making sure they get to appointments, overseeing medication, etc. I can understand Yahoo wants to be at the top again. But to so ruthlesslessly apply this without exception (supposedly) seems pretty cruel. It's also ironic considering Mayer has the nursery right next to her office. Will they extend childcare and/or adultcare then?

Barb Near
Barb Near

Don't get it. The whole working world pays child care and "goes to work". Men and women. If you want it all (a good job and children) you have to make many many sacrifices. That is a part of being a good parent and becoming a successful business person.

heathergasser
heathergasser

@willistj @tyakaboski excellent article!! TY for sharing TJ!

Terri Yancy
Terri Yancy

If she's worried about employee productivity, she should have an on-site employee daycare. After all, she has one for herself: her own private office nursery for HER baby.

Ideology of World & Personal Peace
Ideology of World & Personal Peace

Equal rights means that there are becoming more and more dad's the bear the responsibility of raising children than simply the responsibility of working to provide food and shelter.

JudyWarthen
JudyWarthen

I am currently a full-time student and I always seek online course work for the majority of my courses, save for math and science courses, because I find that I not only work better when I can pop up for a quick break, but that my peak performance hours fall between 1-4pm and 10pm-3am.  It is also nice being able to wake naturally in the mornings vs. being screamed out of bed by an alarm, because it appears that I need less sleep to function that way.  When I complete my degree in accounting, I am going to seek flex-time employment with a huge emphasis on telecommunicating. 

 

jfrumkin
jfrumkin

@poniewozik Great piece. Thank you so much for writing it.

Chicagow
Chicagow

Totally agree with this article.  More and more dads, like myself are now understanding the challenge women have faced for decades balancing family and career.  We're also seeing the same prejudices against the practice too.   

Evanryt
Evanryt

@poniewozik It's always a joy to read you on this issue

poniewozik
poniewozik

@jfrumkin Thanks for reading it!