Marissa mayer 3

Yahoo!, Best Buy, and Women Bashing Women

Have you noticed that news this week of Best Buy’s decision to end some employee-friendly policies, to include calling its telecommuting corporate employees back into the workplace, has not been accompanied by hyperbolic huffing and puffing and snarky allusions to the lifestyle choices of its CEO— a stark departure from reaction to last week’s news of similar policy change at Yahoo!? Yeah. Me too.

Without exception, every story I read last week about the Yahoo! policy change to end telecommuting included inevitable mentions of one or all of the following: new-to-the-job CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent two-week maternity leave, the luxurious nursery she had built adjacent to her office (at her own expense) at Yahoo!’s headquarters, her taste in designer clothing, her long blonde hair, and her super-model good looks.

But coverage of similar changes at Best Buy have (so far) neglected to mention any personal detail about its (male) CEO—also new to the job—and it really makes me wonder what that says about our culture.

Call me crazy, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that much of last week’s Yahoo! brouhaha was about gender and class, with Mayer anointed the Gen X Queen of Mean. The wisdom (or lack thereof) of Yahoo!’s policy decision aside, it appears that Mayer has a bull’s-eye on her back because she’s an attractive, privileged, assertive woman (and if you read between the lines, she may be a bad mother, as evidenced by her two-week maternity leave). And she made an unpopular decision. But the former supersedes the latter if we’re going by what the media has focused on.

Best Buy has long been a trail-blazer in its employee-friendly policies, which included allowing workers at its headquarters (those working in the stores were excluded) unprecedented flexibility and the latitude to set and manage their own schedules. Best Buy’s much-heralded Results Only Work Environment—known as “ROWE”—rolled out in 2005, relied on assessing employees purely on performance measures rather than the number of hours they put in or their attendance records. The idea was that it didn’t matter when or where the work happened as long as employees were productive and the work got done. “Now most corporate employees will work the traditional 40-hour week, though managers still have discretion to accommodate some workers,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Spokespeople for both Yahoo! and Best Buy have said the policy decisions were made to re-set the culture, support collaboration, innovation and creativity in their organizations. But will Best Buy see the same tenor of vitriol aimed at its leadership over their decision that we’ve seen with Mayer? I doubt it.

With the attacks on Mayer seeming so personal and some of the harshest criticism coming from women, it almost seems like Mayer is the victim of a middle school “mean girl syndrome” mindset.

And in an ironic twist, Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler (both women), and the former Best Buy executives who created the ROWE program, called Mayer out publicly last week in an open letter posted to their website, referring to her as “an Industrial Age dictator.” While Thompson and Ressler, who co-founded their own consulting company, CultureRx, have been quick to denounce Mayer as a postmodern Cruella DeVille, I have to wonder what they’re thinking about the subsequent demise of their flexibility program at Best Buy. The benefits of ROWE takes up a lot of space on their website that says: “Cali and Jody created the Results-Only Work Environment from within the bowels of Corporate America – while at the same time, juggling families, careers and all the other demands of life.”

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.