Marissa Mayer’s decision to bring all Yahoo! employees back to the office has nothing to do with gender — it’s all about business and reinvigorating a stumbling behemoth. 

By Shaherose Charania (Co-Founder & CEO, Women 2.0)

I had a chat with my friends at Bloomberg last week. They were perplexed that the media was still talking about the strong move by Marissa and wanted my honest and frank opinion.

I wasn’t shy when I shared it, have a look at the video clip:


Yup, that’s right, I do support Marissa’s move, and here’s why.

The Company Is in Crisis

The evidence is irrefutable. Five CEOs in five years. Stock and revenues on the slide.  In the face of a complete upheaval in media, Yahoo! has remained stagnant. When was the last time you were wowed by (or even eager to use) a Yahoo! product? Drastic change is needed if Yahoo! is to survive.

People are at the core of the success of any company, and the culture those people reside in leads to a company thriving or being destroyed. Yahoo! is clearly not thriving, so the people and the culture need a shake up. They have slowed innovation and reduced the ability of Yahoo! to be nimble in the fast-changing media and tech space.

Being in the office fosters communication, collaboration and connection. That helps to drive forward innovation and creative thinking — the two things Yahoo! needs most. Marissa has choices: deliver increasingly bad news about a company in crisis, fire existing employees or ask for her employees to be present during this very fragile time. Doesn’t the third option seem much more sensible now?

Marissa Is Acting Like a Founder

In the founding stages of a new company, it’s common that the core team be in one place to foster idea exchange. Being face to face helps spark more creativity and innovation. It also sets the cadence and pace of innovation, and is a key element for establishing the company’s long-term culture. By acting like a founder, Marissa is resetting the company and resetting the culture. She is essentially revisiting the first stages of the company, and this stage needs to be face to face.

This Isn’t a Girl Thing

What timing for Marissa to make a move like this – right at the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book on female leadership. As I’ve watched the commentary, I’ve wondered: would the feedback be the same for a man? Yahoo! laid off 2,000 employees – 14% of its workforce – just one year ago. Is it me, or did this highly impactful event generate less news than Marissa’s “get back to work” manifesto?

We put leaders in their position to make hard decisions. Gender doesn’t matter. Male or female, collaborative or transactional, when the rubber meets the road, leaders need to LEAD. In my Bloomberg interview, and plenty of other times, people have asked me about the impact of Marissa’s decision on working mothers or people with long commutes. Let’s face facts. Marissa demanded on-site engagement because the majority of WFH employees weren’t even regularly logging into VPN. Whatever they’re doing at home, be it taking care of personal responsibilities, pursuing other interests, or – I don’t know, you fill in the blanks – they’re not working. Yahoo shouldn’t be paying them to do it. By having them come on site, Marissa is at least recalibrating accountability and perhaps making the deal less inviting to those who are not contributing what a paid employee should contribute.

Regardless of their gender, all leaders should work to make work-life balance possible when the company is a position to allow for that flexibility, but Yahoo! currently isn’t. In time new processes may emerge and eventually be conductive to remote work, but that can’t happen unless Marissa gets the company back on a healthy trajectory in the short term.

This isn’t a Marissa issue. This isn’t a female issue or a male one. It’s a business issue and when things aren’t working, it’s a leader’s job to fix them.

Marissa is on a mission. She needs to be. She’s moving – or hoping to move – a behemoth of a company into a new stage of accountability, efficiency, and, hopefully, opportunity. It’s not going to be easy. But to do it she has to show her leadership and, as we all know: she can’t do it alone.

Women 2.0 readers: Do you think gender should play any role in how we think about Marissa’s decision?

Thanks to Ellen Leanse for review and input. Image credit: Giorgio Montersino via Flickr.

4e31d586b69b7a63066e5b6ab9d3008fShaherose Charania is the co-founder and CEO of Women 2.0. She is passionate about open innovation in mobile and telephony startups. She is currently running Founder Labs a pre-team, pre-idea incubator for new mobile startups. Follow her on Twitter at @shaherose.