The Marissa Mayer Controversy: Let’s Shift the Conversation from Mud Slinging to Caregiving

By Estelle Sobel Erasmus

Marissa Mayer’s decree leaked last week –that employees of Yahoo could not work remotely or from home started a feeding frenzy of posts, commentary and of course, discourse; some extremely hostile toward mothers.

To paraphrase, many of the comments postulated that allowing mothers the flexibility to work from home was akin to having the company subsidizing childcare for these women. Others said women make the choice to have kids so they have to deal with it. What? Wait a minute!

Somebody please tell me when this discussion about the rights of workers to be able to have flexibility if they need it, while still adhering to proper performance standards became only about mothers and their choices? To make this the conversation convolutes, confuses and somehow diminishes the issue–which is about creating draconian working conditions for people; and not accepting that most people thrive in positions that allow for flexibility when necessary.

The real point is that this is a corporate policy issue–one that can start to become endemic–if another company rides the admittedly unpopular wave and opts in to the concept and then another (like Best Buy just did), and then another; soon it will just be accepted that employees need to be at their desks all day long, five days a week.

This potential shift in corporate policy frankly will not suit anyone-men or women, gay or straight, young or old, married or single.

Why? Because we do have something in common. We are a nation of caregivers. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP:

*There are an estimated 44.4 million American caregivers age 18 and older who provide unpaid care to an adult age 18 or older. Ten million people are caregiving for those 18-50; over 34 million caregivers are caring for people 50+.

*Almost six in ten caregivers work while providing care, and 62 percent have had to make some adjustments to their work life…from coming in late and leaving early, to taking a leave of absence, to giving up work entirely.

*Nearly half of all caregivers say they provide eight hours or less of care per week, and one in five (17%) says they provide more than 40 hours of care per week.

*Many caregivers fulfill multiple roles. Most caregivers are married or living with a partner (62%), and nearly 40% have children under 18 living at home. The great majority of caregivers (83%) are helping relatives.

*Although the caregiving landscape is still dominated by women helping women, the proportion of caregivers who are men is substantial. Nearly four in ten caregivers are men.

This is what we need to shift the conversation to: the value of caregiving: whether it be  children, aging parents, or, yes, taking that time to do errands, or get your cable set up without feeling that because you can’t give face time in an office that somehow correlates to your true performance at work.  If you are working on a project at 3:00 am and accomplish what you need to do; that should be the measuring stick, not the “effect” of showing the boss that you are slaving away at your desk.

So let’s stop dragging mothers into this fray and keep the conversation where it belongs: on the value of caregiving and the value of having government and corporate policies that support those efforts.

Because one way or another we all have caregiving in our past or future. Shouldn’t it be visible and valued?

Estelle Sobel Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, columnist and author who writes a blog Musings on Motherhood and Midlife chronicling her often humorous, sometimes serious, but always transformative journey through motherhood and marriage. She is on the board of directors of the national non-profit Mothers & More, and was featured in the anthology: What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013). A piece she wrote was included in the 2012 BlogHer Voices of the Year Anthology.

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8 thoughts on “The Marissa Mayer Controversy: Let’s Shift the Conversation from Mud Slinging to Caregiving”

  1. Interesting article and well written (of course!) – but, IMO this is not just a corporate issue. This is a government issue too. You can’t expect corporations to lead the charge in providing caregiver reform. Why? Because they have businesses to run. Most can’t even afford to give their employees insurance. The shift to the importance to the caregiver issue is something we need to discuss -but let’s aim it at the right influencer group.

  2. I agree with your focus on caregivers – I am so sick of the argument that they “chose” to have kids. If no one chose to have kids we would have a big problem.

    1. What really bugs me is people saying that ***mothers*** chose to have kids so should have to “deal with it” or give up working, without saying the same thing about fathers. Fathers have to deal, too! It isn’t okay for anyone to assume mothers deserve the full burden of making sure their kids are cared for and rearranging their work to fill in any gaps.

      My 8-year-old has been sick all week. I took some time off the first day when he was delirious and we were worried, and then I took another half-day off when the computers were down at work. The rest of the time, his dad has been caring for him, because he works from home so it’s easier for him to arrange. When I was a kid, my mom’s job involved a lot of travel, while my dad’s was a standard office job with some flexibility; when I was home sick and old enough to be alone some, my dad would come home for lunch every day to check on me and make soup while we watched “Perry Mason”. 🙂 He took fine care of me, and it was not necessary for my mom to cancel her work.

  3. I applaud you on your commentary about the new policy Ms. Mayer and Yahoo have instituted against women. It is a step back not only of the achievements of The Women’s Movement but one that turns the clock back on working families. Bravo on bringing the whole topic of caregiving into the discussion – an important and necessary point. This is a human issue and should be discussed as one. Great piece.

    1. It’s not a policy against women! I think that’s kind of the point of this post. It’s a policy against people who want flexibility in their work times and locations, regardless of the reason they want it. Some of those people are single men who like to sleep late. If they are still getting their work done in a satisfactory manner, that’s all that should be important.

  4. You bring up a very good viewpoint on this subject. Thanks for another beautifully written piece…

  5. This is exactly where I think the focus should shift to. I know male caregivers, (including my own dad, who cared for my grandma at the end of her life) and as people live longer, this issue is only going to become more challenging and complex. Why not be “that company” proactively putting systems in place to aid your workers (from whom you presumably want loyalty & morale) in their caregiving role, rather than force people to choose between a job and their mother/father/child, etc..?

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