Marissa Mayer’s Faustian Bargain
The recent order by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, forbidding Yahoo employees from doing their Yahoo work at home, might seem justified. After all, companies tell their employees what to do and Mayer might have good reasons for this edict. But the memo and its fallout raise serious and significant questions about technology, culture and women's role in both.
Major technology corporations like Yahoo control so much of the information we have and how we exchange it that their policies find their way into our lives and help define our culture. This decision is a retrenchment in the collaborative way we work and the role of women in that collaboration. Its ironic that a woman who arises from collaborative culture would be an advocate for that retrenchment.
For many of us, life is like walking on a street of uneven pavement; at some point, you're certain to stumble and fall. Marissa Mayer, in her 37 years of life, appears to have found an alternate route. Her profile reads like a fairy tale filled with corporate castles and technological blessings, begging the observer to search for some faustian bargain signed in computer code.
With a Master's Degree from Stanford University, a top University for techies, she was one of the first employees at Google and ripped through 13 years of work there as a key team leader for, at one time or the other, Google Search, Google Images, Google News, Google Maps, Google Books, Google Product Search, Google Toolbar, iGoogle and Gmail. She earned a well-deserved rep -- replete with profiles in the industry press -- as one of the keys to that mega-company's dizzying success.
In July 2012, Yahoo (Google's principal Internet rival) announced that Mayer would take over its reins and she simultaneously announced that she was pregnant. The glowing articles tumbled. She was, in the view of many technology and business writers, a prime example of the "new woman executive": one who could produce profitable companies while producing babies, manage staff while managing a relationship, look "gorgeous" while looking serious and use the "female tools" of perks, compliments and inspiring speeches to motivate some staff while using the "male tools" of threats, firing, and marginalization to discipline others.
Although the profile is filled with highly questionable dichotomies and falsely back-lit by the mass media myth of a hermaphroditic corporate culture, it's accurate in one sense: by all accounts, Mayer is a highly effective corporate manager and an outstanding technologist.
To add shine to the gleam, while planning Yahoo's recovery strategy and its more aggressive involvement in "mobile Internet" (the use of phones and other mobile devices to use the Net), she gave birth to the baby whom she and her husband Zachary Bogu, a lawyer and investor, named Macalister.
Is there anything that can top that? Mayer was ready.
After working from home the last couple of weeks of her pregnancy, she took a two week maternity leave of absence after Macalister's birth and then came back to work. Debates in the technology media immediately started: was she nuts, a superwoman or an oblivious fool?