Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to ban her Yahoo employees from telecommuting has sparked a media firestorm. Her decision, especially as a working mother, has angered her employees, many working mothers, feminists, and policy makers working towards work-life balance. She has also been praised by journalists and business insiders that argue that the boundary between work and home is becoming too porous. Mayer's public declaration that she is not a feminist and decision to build a nursery (with her own money) next to her office has stoked the fire.
Why the strong and contradictory response to Mayer's decision? My dissertation research examines the social construction of the private sphere and the history of work in the home. Working within the home has a complicated history and associations with issues of class. Mayer's decision reveals the problem of class privilege and asks us to question where work belongs? The answers are not simple and too complicated to go into detail here. However, I believe some important points can be addressed in this blog post.
Marissa Mayer's position of power as CEO and financial means allow her to bring her baby to work, a privilege not available to her employees. Mayer clearly believes that work should be first when considering work-life balance for herself and her employees. Productive work belongs in the workplace. In building the nursery, she has brought "home" or "life" to work. However, the angry response to Mayer's decision also reveals the problem of work-life balance and privilege on the part of her employees. For the middle and upper-middle class Yahoo employees working at home means flexibility and placing more emphasis on "life." Productive work can exist within the private sphere. The ability to work at home is also a privilege that is increasingly more associated with socioeconomic status. Mayer's decision threatens a new form of cultural capital that has become increasingly important to knowledge (or what Richard Florida refers to as the Creative Class) professionals.