You Can’t Have It All

I’ve stayed on the sidelines of the Marissa Mayer Hates Working Mom’s kerfuffle, because quite frankly I just don’t get it.  And by “it” I don’t mean Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo!  That’s easy.

Yahoo! does’t work – at the headquarters or from the home office.  Something has to change. Fast and significantly.  Mayer’s edict is a blunt object, and if she is as lucky as she is good, she will in time come to reverse, if not regret, it. There is, after all, a role for telecommuting as a tool to attract and retain the best talent.  The collaboration-leads-to-innovation culture Mayer is going for has to be built in to the remote-worker framework, and work-from-home employees who mistake plowing through inboxes and cranking out reports for productivity need to be measured differently.   It’s as true at Yahoo! as it is anywhere else.

Telecommuting works for the whole organization when it is well designed, and fails when it is purely a vehicle for worker flexibility and reduced real estate expense.

No, what I don’t get is how quickly this story devolved into women-eating-their-own class warfare.

Marissa Mayer can’t hate working moms.  She is one, and I highly doubt she is that self-loathing.  True, at her own expense she built a nursery in her executive suite so that she could keep little Macallister close at hand. That’s a luxury not afforded (or affordable to) other Yahoo! employees, but is it elitist?  No.  Mayer is a problem solver and, again with a blunt instrument, she solved a problem that prevented her from being (or at least perceiving herself to be) a 100% CEO and a 100% parent.

Within minutes the announcement of the telecommuting ban, however, tongue waggers were bemoaning Mayer’s insensitivity to working parents everywhere and sniping that of course she couldn’t understand because, after all, her ungodly wealth meant she could buy work-life balance.

People! She has a crib in her office!  That ain’t work-life balance. That’s a scale fully tipped to the side of work.

To be clear, this isn’t a defense of either Mayer or a ham-handed policy that will alienate some great employees just as surely as it will surface the slackers.

Rather, there is an important point to be made here about innovative corporate cultures (I think we can agree that Yahoo! is not now, and perhaps has not for a very long time been the poster child of that movement) and the critical need for engagement to inspire new and better thinking.

Frankly, that’s a post for another time.  Because right now, I can’t get past the stubborn persistence of the modern You Can Have It All myth.

It is time that we – men and women, entrepreneurs and executives – get very real:  You cannot have it all!

And let’s be honest; we wouldn’t want “it” all.  Where would you even put it?

We make choices.  Some chose work over personal relationships. Others chose family over career.  Still others want a bit of both, and the most honest of these folks realize they sacrifice the fullness of each.

Still, those same work-life-balance parents who would never let their kids chose all 31 flavors at once  fail to recognize the choice in their own career and family lives.

Begrudging Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg, as is also currently popular, for going all-in on business and earning the wealth to have more or different options from you or me is an exercise in silly.  (Which is not to say that either woman may have escaped the bonds of a more common reality and offer advice that few of us are at liberty to take.)

At the end of the day, Mayer is running a business, a broken, flagging business.  The tools she uses (blunt or otherwise) as she attempts to fix it, will present new choices – many of them unpleasant – for the employees and customers of Yahoo!   That just is what it is.  The rest of the noise is just a lot of justification to make us feel better or worse for the choices we have to make.

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8 thoughts on “You Can’t Have It All

  1. ev says:

    Right on Chris!

  2. [...] First, some context:  With all of the recent discussions and, in some instances, backlash about the new policy at Yahoo! from Marissa Mayer requiring people to work in the office, and while noticing some of the heat against Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I am reminded of the many issues around work/life balance that women, and to a lesser extent men, have to deal with in balancing the attainment of a hard driving career while simultaneously doing an “adequate” job of raising a family. I’ve heard this discussion for at least two decades through my colleagues at work, and I even recall Carol Bartz telling us at Stanford in 1993 that, “Balance is a myth” — you can’t simultaneously have a career as a CEO and also extended time with the family simultaneously.  (This theme was recently raised again by Chris Shipley here.) [...]

  3. Dylan Tweney says:

    Great post, Chris, and very well put. I’m glad you made it clear that this applies not just to women, but to men too. It’s something I’m conscious of every single day when I give my kids hugs and send them off to school while I go off to work.

  4. [...] First, some context:  With all of the recent discussions and, in some instances, backlash about the new policy at Yahoo! from Marissa Mayer requiring people to work in the office, and while noticing some of the heat against Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I am reminded of the many issues around work/life balance that women, and to a lesser extent men, have to deal with in balancing the attainment of a hard driving career while simultaneously doing an “adequate” job of raising a family. I’ve heard this discussion for at least two decades through my colleagues at work, and I even recall Carol Bartz telling us at Stanford in 1993 that, “Balance is a myth” — you can’t simultaneously have a career as a CEO and also extended time with the family simultaneously.  (This theme was recently raised again by Chris Shipley here.) [...]

  5. [...] First, some context:  With all of the recent discussions and, in some instances, backlash about the new policy at Yahoo! from Marissa Mayer requiring people to work in the office, and while noticing some of the heat against Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I am reminded of the many issues around work/life balance that women, and to a lesser extent men, have to deal with in balancing the attainment of a hard driving career while simultaneously doing an “adequate” job of raising a family. I’ve heard this discussion for at least two decades through my colleagues at work, and I even recall Carol Bartz telling us at Stanford in 1993 that, “Balance is a myth” — you can’t simultaneously have a career as a CEO and also extended time with the family simultaneously.  (This theme was recently raised again by Chris Shipley here.) [...]

  6. [...] First, some context:  With all of the recent discussions and, in some instances, backlash about the new policy at Yahoo! from Marissa Mayer requiring people to work in the office, and while noticing some of the heat against Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I am reminded of the many issues around work/life balance that women, and to a lesser extent men, have to deal with in balancing the attainment of a hard driving career while simultaneously doing an “adequate” job of raising a family. I’ve heard this discussion for at least two decades through my colleagues at work, and I even recall Carol Bartz telling us at Stanford in 1993 that, “Balance is a myth” — you can’t simultaneously have a career as a CEO and also extended time with the family simultaneously.  (This theme was recently raised again by Chris Shipley here.) [...]

  7. [...] First, some context:  With all of the recent discussions and, in some instances, backlash about the new policy at Yahoo! from Marissa Mayer requiring people to work in the office, and while noticing some of the heat against Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I am reminded of the many issues around work/life balance that women, and to a lesser extent men, have to deal with in balancing the attainment of a hard driving career while simultaneously doing an “adequate” job of raising a family. I’ve heard this discussion for at least two decades through my colleagues at work, and I even recall Carol Bartz telling us at Stanford in 1993 that, “Balance is a myth” — you can’t simultaneously have a career as a CEO and also extended time with the family simultaneously.  (This theme was recently raised again by Chris Shipley here.) [...]

  8. […] First, some context:  With all of the recent discussions and, in some instances, backlash about the new policy at Yahoo! from Marissa Mayer requiring people to work in the office, and while noticing some of the heat against Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I am reminded of the many issues around work/life balance that women, and to a lesser extent men, have to deal with in balancing the attainment of a hard driving career while simultaneously doing an “adequate” job of raising a family. I’ve heard this discussion for at least two decades through my colleagues at work, and I even recall Carol Bartz telling us at Stanford in 1993 that, “Balance is a myth” — you can’t simultaneously have a career as a CEO and also extended time with the family simultaneously.  (This theme was recently raised again by Chris Shipley here.) […]

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