Yahoos chief executive officer was heavily criticized for banning telework… (PASCAL LAUENER/REUTERS )
The new CEO of a struggling Fortune 500 company in need of a turnaround recently decided to kill a popular flexible work program, even though it boosted employee productivity and morale, reduced turnover, cut costs and eased stress.
Marissa Mayer, you say? The 37-year-old Silicon Valley wunderkind and new Yahoo CEO, whose decision to ban telework has been met with howls of outrage, accusations of betrayal and endless dissection in the media?
Try Hubert Joly.
Welcome to what social scientists say is a common double bind for women leaders. Women are so rare in the upper echelons of power — 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs — that their every move is closely watched, harshly judged and often found wanting. Especially when it comes to how they treat other women.
Joly, the new chief executive officer of Best Buy, announced recently that he was ending the innovative, flexible work style the company pioneered — Results Only Work Environment, or ROWE — that defined work as something you do, not someplace you go, and gave employees control over when and where they did it.
Both Mayer’s and Joly’s decisions were momentous steps away from the flexible work schedules that enable employees to do good work and also have lives. But we’ve turned the klieg lights on Marissa Mayer. Most people have never heard of Hubert Joly.
“This is one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to be a female executive,” said Joan Williams, a law professor and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California at Hastings who has been following the fallout from Mayer’s decision. “Everything you do is hyper-scrutinized. And you are completely judged if you don’t put a particular social agenda — advancing women — incredibly high on your priority list in a way that men don’t have to. Mayer bans flexible work and we can’t stop talking. Men do this all the time and we just never hear about it.”
Brian T. Moynihan? Heard of him?
The CEO of Bank of America, who made $12 million in 2012, decided recently to scale back a telework program that more than 15,000 workers in 42 states used and which, the company once boasted, saved $6,000 per employee every year. The announcement, which registered nary a blip on the national radar, came on the heels of his decision to close the bank’s popular on-site child-care centers around the country and to lay off 30,000 employees.
How about John Berry? The head of the Office of Personnel Management announced in March that he, too, had killed a pilot ROWE program for 400 government employees. This despite the fact that research is finding that while chance face-to-face meetings can lead to the generation of ideas — what Mayer is aiming for — bringing those ideas to life requires solitary, uninterrupted time to concentrate, often far from most offices’ noisy cubicle nations.
Yet Mayer has been derided as the “Stalin of Silicon Valley” and depicted by bloggers as a “Queen Bee” who has clawed her way to the top of the heap and is busily shoving other women off with her turquoise-fringed Manolos. (Yes, several articles have been written about the kind of shoes she wears, her trips to the salon for blond highlights and her love of Oscar de la Renta.)
No one is fixated on Joly’s looks. (Corporate. Gray hair. Clear-framed glasses. Needs sun.) And, unlike with Mayer, no one’s called him a traitor to his sex.
Because the truth, as Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute has found in workforce surveys, is that the people who telework and work flexibly the most are . . . men.
In fact, while everyone’s been so busy ripping on Mayer for failing to help working mothers, what’s gotten lost is the fact that a growing number of working fathers are the ones rushing out the door to make the 6 p.m. child-care pickup. And that Galinksy’s research has found it’s not just working mothers who want flexible schedules. It’s nearly 90 percent of all workers.
And while it’s true that the Workplace Bullying Institute has found that female bosses tend to pick on other women 80 percent of the time, their surveys also show that there are far more cases of male bosses being horrible to male underlings.
Yet there is no Queen Bee equivalent for a bad male boss focused on his own rise, not yours.
The double bind
Mayer’s predicament illustrates perfectly the double standard found by Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization that studies the advancement of women in business, politics, academia and other fields. Female leaders, Catalyst researchers write, are “damned if they do, doomed if they don’t.” If they’re too tough, too masculine, they’re Queen Bees. If they’re too soft, too feminine, they’re ineffective leaders. Deemed either likable or competent, they’re rarely judged “just right.” We expect men to take charge, the group concluded. We expect women to nurture us.