26 February 2013

A war on moms is a war on evolution

The dude had a point
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

 - Charles Darwin

Some of the people I admire most on the interwebs have had a lot to say lately about how people have a hard time responding to change - specifically the evolution of gender roles, of family needs, and the economy.

Julie Marsh reminded Mashable that they should know better when it comes to talking about moms on Facebook. Doug French, Lance Somerfield, Charlie Capen and a slew of other men have been pushing advertisers to stop portraying fathers as idiots. Kristen Chase and Liz Gumbinner illustrated how the defenders of those unfunny jokes at the Oscars haven't had anything new to say in forever.

And Joanne Bamberger took two of America's top executives to the woodshed in one of the world's largest newspapers. She called their recent actions "the latest salvo in the war on moms." You should read it.

Joanne is brilliant.  She's an excellent writer. She's had personal and professional success. She's dedicated so much time and energy to fighting for the rights of women to have more choices in their life - choices over their own health care, over their own families, their own work.  So I know it was hard for her to criticize two champions of making those choices - Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg.  I'm sure she knew she'd be accused of "taking other women down."  If you know Joanne, you know that wasn't what she was doing at all.  Joanne is trying to lift women up.

Further, Joanne and the others are calling people out for denying our social and cultural evolution, or simply refusing to evolve.  Maybe moms were a little clueless to technology they hadn't seen before, but most aren't clueless now.  Maybe there was a time when dads were complete idiots when it came to parenting, but most are not now.  Maybe there was a time when boob jokes and rape jokes and using the c-word to describe an eight-year-old girl were funny to an adult, prime-time audience.

I "get" those jokes just fine.  They're stupid.  Get with the times, people.

Sheryl Sandberg represents all of the things I look for in a female role model - she's smart, she works hard, she overcomes challenges, she shatters stereotypes, and she strives to help others.  I haven't read her book so I won't presume to know what she says in it. I do know this, however - the next generation of Sheryl Sandbergs tend to believe there's a lot more to life than a career, and a lot more to a career than personal advancement.  Generation Y doesn't "lean in" to any one thing. They change jobs almost as quickly as they change underwear.  Businesses must evolve to reflect the values of the next generation of business leaders.  If companies like Facebook don't keep pace, they'll go the way of the dodo. I'd be very interested to know what Sandberg thinks about this and how she plans to address it.

When it comes to Marissa Meyer, here's an experiment.  Type "Marissa Meyer is" into your Google search bar, and let Google suggest how you'd finish that sentence/search.  Here's what I got:

Not "Marissa Meyer is an honors graduate of Stanford." Not "Marissa Meyer is the first female engineer Google ever hired." Not "Marissa Meyer is the CEO of a major tech company." Nope, she's either a sexual object or a moron. And a tardy moron at that. Thanks, Internet.

But Meyer really isn't an idiot.  She knew what would happen.  She didn't take her job to win any popularity contests - she did it to lead a company back to greatness. And she knew she'd have to make some very difficult choices to make it happen.  Given what's up against her, I hope she succeeds.

Meyer knows a heckuva lot more about Yahoo! than pretty much anyone else. But I definitely agree with Joanne that this decision to essentially bar telecommuting at the company is a mistake.  Business Insider has reported on some of the thinking behind the decision: previous leadership fostered a bloated payroll of stay-at-home slackers.  I haven't heard any new initiatives out of the company that increase accountability of employees wherever they are - but I have seen a new policy that eliminates employees based not on their ability or productivity but on their location.

To me this reflects a resistance to a constantly changing global economy and the evolving needs of working families. Many families can't get by with a sole breadwinner. The same technology that sparked Yahoo!'s success makes it possible for people to make meaningful contributions wherever they are.  I don't see how you make your company more competitive by limiting your workforce to those who are willing to live in one of the most expensive locations on the planet. What's more, I think the new policy sends a very clear message - "no parents of children with special needs need apply."  The simple truth for more people than you may think is this: if you can't work from home at least some of the time, you can't work.

It took longer than it should have for our society to understand that stereotypes from the 50's no longer apply, and that the people who make the boob/rape jokes are the jerks - not the people who don't find them funny. But we still have a long way to go.

It took longer than it should have to have a culture and a legal system that helps brilliant and hard-working women like Sandberg and Meyer succeed at the same pace as men. But we still have a long way to go.

It took longer than it should have for businesses to understand that workers value more than just their careers, and that workers can make contributions from virtually anywhere while still meeting the needs of their family.  But we still have a long way to go - and we all need brilliant leaders like Sandberg and Meyer to help.

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