Yahoo Comes Up With Perfect Recipe for Pushing Women Out of the Workplace

Mayer thinks maternity leave is for chumps, wants to abolish working from home, and seems to have a vision of “equality” that involves women being just like men -- even though they live in a society where this isn’t feasible.

Feb 26, 2013 at 10:30am | Leave a comment

Modern mainstream feminism is inextricably intwined with capitalism.

As Sarah Jaffe noted in “Trickle-Down Feminism,” her great recent piece in Dissent, feminist leaders seem obsessed with breaking the glass ceiling at all costs. The mark of “success” under capitalist feminism is achieving a job like that of a high-ranking CEO, of playing within a capitalist system rather than moving beyond or outside it. And that success, she points out, comes on the backs of women, but that’s apparently a fair price to pay for female representation in the boardroom.

Perhaps nowhere is this more glaring than in the case of Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s CEO. Mayer has been heralded by a lot of mainstream feminists as an example of a woman who’s risen/fought her way to the top, and yet, she also rejects the label of “feminist” for herself -- and not because she has issues with the feminist movement, but because she believes hat she needs to be “genderblind” to be taken seriously.

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Photo credit: Adam Tinworth.

Her latest move has been to ban all working from home, effective in June. With only a few months to transition, all employees who work from home, including full-timers as well as people with flex schedules, will be expected to come into their offices to work. In a memo leaked to the press, the company says people need to “work together” by being together, and that means showing up in the office.

Work-from-home and flex scheduling, of course, represent a huge victory for a very particular component of the workforce: women.

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' LADIES IN THIS COMPANY

Women continue to be tasked with responsibilities above and beyond paid work; they’re most likely to be expected to provide care for children, aging family members and disabled family members. They’re the ones taking care of homes, doing errands, and maintaining households. Work-from-home or flex scheduling arrangements allow them to complete these extra burdens while still maintaining a full schedule at work and participating in the professional environment.

Increased acceptance of activities like flex scheduling has allowed women who need to be at home to be there without incurring as many social and career penalties, although women continue to be questioned and criticized with snide comments about “briefcase versus baby.” For a major company like Yahoo! to roll back progressive workplace policies like this is to take a huge step backward, and it could send a dangerous signal to other companies.

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Photo credit: Jeremy Hunsinger

Of course, some men work from home too, obviously, and some men also participate in household management/childcare/other tasks. But women are disproportionately represented here, which means that women are going to be disproportionately harmed by such policies -- especially women of color, who are already in a vulnerable position in the workplace because of their lower pay and greater chance of facing discrimination.

Racialized discrimination can also be seen in terms of how work from home is handled in terms of pay. A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey tracking changes in work-from-home trends noted that that whites and Latino/as were more likely to perform paid work at home than members of other races. But statistics on unpaid work at home showed that Black and Asian employees were more likely to bring work home and not be fully compensated for it. This suggests that there are certain expectations placed on nonwhite workers when it comes to working at home.

By barring work from home, Yahoo! is inevitably telling some workers that they aren’t wanted at the company -- which may be part of the point -- and it’s sending a clear signal that it doesn’t want workers who can’t be at work 100% of the time. Even though flex scheduling has clear benefits not just in terms of employee welfare and productivity, but also environmentally. A work culture where people are not invited to work on flex schedules that function for them and the company is, by default, one were women are not welcome, due to the role of caregiver so often assigned to women by society.

CAPITALISM: IT'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU

Mayer thinks maternity leave is for chumps, wants to abolish working from home, and seems to have a vision of “equality” that involves women being just like men -- even though they live in a society where this isn’t feasible (whether it's even desirable is another kettle of fish).

Being “genderblind” doesn’t mean you don’t notice gender, it just means you’ve chosen to remain willfully ignorant about the realities of living in a gendered world, and that you’re actually more likely to be misogynist, judging from studies on colorblind ideologies and racism, which look at a similar (though not identical!) phenomenon.

It's not a surprise that Yahoo! isn’t very friendly to female employees, because capitalism is just not that into feminism. As long as people believe that it’s possible to fight their way out of social inequality by staying within a capitalist framework, people like Mayer will continue calling the shots, while the people on the ground, including the women about to lose their jobs at Yahoo! in June, will keep struggling.

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Photo credit: Ian Ransley

Until people stop using capitalist achievements as markers of success, they're going to be trapped in the same endless cycle.