A few weeks ago Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that all telecommuting is banned at Yahoo. All the major US newspapers covered the story on the front page – New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times – those are just examples of the hoopla surrounding this topic.
Most people think the debate is about the ethics of canceling telecommuting. But I think Mayer’s honesty about how people deal with work-life conflict helps us all to see ourselves with more honesty.
Because look: Marissa Mayer is the CEO, she gets to do whatever she wants. If it’s a bad recruiting policy then she will have to change it. But for now, what Mayer is saying is that she only wants to work with people who don’t have a personal life. She doesn’t have a conflict between work and home because she puts work first, and she wants to work with other people who do the same.
That seems fair. If she is working 100 hour weeks, why shouldn’t she get to choose to only work with other people who want to work 100 hour weeks?
The real problem here is that she is telling most people they are not good enough to work with her. She’s telling everyone who wants to spend time raising their kids that they can’t work with her.
So people taking time to raise kids feel devalued. But the truth is that corporate America has been increasingly adamant that people devote their lives to work, and at this point, family historian Stephanie Coontz writes that families can only handle one person working at a time because jobs are so demanding today. The Harvard Business Review reports that if someone works 60 hours a week, they are three times more likely to have a stay-at-home spouse.
This seems right to me. By and large, families need one parent focused on family. There is plenty of research that families function better when there is a stay-at-home spouse. This research shouldn’t be controversial, but it is.
The problem, as I see it, is that we don’t value parenting. And the problem is with school. We tell kids in school that they need to pay attention and do their homework so they get a good job when they grow up. Their adult life depends on good grades.
This is how schools keep kids in line. This is how schools get kids to follow rules. What would happen if you told kids, you could grow up to be a parent, so you don’t need to study this stuff if you are not interested. There are no gatekeepers to parenting. Just be a good person.
You know what would happen? Kids wouldn’t work as hard in school. Because it’s hard to tell kids you need to memorize the kings of Medieval England to be a good parent. If you told students they will grow up to be parents then the students would ask why they can’t just learn what they want to learn. And then there would be mayhem.
So we tell kids they have to study so they can grow up and have big jobs and then everyone is torn apart internally when they realize they don’t want a big job because it conflicts too much with family.
The problem is not with Marissa Mayer, the problem is with schools. If you were raised to work as hard as you can and get the best grades you can, then you are crushed to hear that you are not good enough to work with Marissa Mayer.
But instead of taking it out on her, solve this problem yourself, by taking your kids out of school. Stop telling your kids that their reason for learning is to get a good job and have a good adult life. Their reason for learning is that they are curious and that learning is fun. And maybe they will grow up and be parents. Maybe their will not need one little bit of the US core curriculum. That’s okay. Because we all have choices. We just need to use them.