Raising Richmond: Yahoo!…?

A local parent shares her thoughts on Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent telecommuting ban–and drops some first-hand knowledge on approaching the work-from-home issue with your employer.

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Shortly after my son was born prematurely, I tried to negotiate a flexible work arrangement with my place of employment. Unexpectedly overwhelmed with the care of a high-needs baby and facing a daily two-hour round trip commute, I hoped we could reach a compromise. I loved my job, but I also loved my new family and I didn’t want to force a choice between the two. I’ve always been a hard worker and assumed that my talent and potential would trump any concerns related to a flexible work arrangement.

My request was denied immediately.

I felt betrayed and helpless and even a little bit angry.

Maybe a lot angry.

After a long weekend of running numbers and looking at schedules, my husband and I made the decision that was best for our family at that time: I quit the job I loved. I fully believe that I would still be with that company if they simply had been willing to let me work from home for part of the week.

So when the news broke that Marissa Mayer eliminated work-from-home options at Yahoo!, I wanted to feel betrayed. I wanted to be angry. Instead…I find myself defending her. Employees are not entitled to flexible work arrangements, though I think they are great solutions to balancing the needs of work and family and attracting talent. And if Marissa Mayer were named “Mark”? This would not be a news event.

Female CEOs are not required to be crusaders for the feminist cause, as much as I wish they were. It would be a tectonic shift if women in the C-suite could always prioritize the needs of other women in their company, but isn’t their first responsibility to make sure there’s a company to support in the first place? Mayer wasn’t hired to redefine the rules for working moms and dads; she was hired to turn around a flailing brand that is, at best an afterthought. If she thinks the company needs all hands in the office, they probably do. At least until we’re all using “yahooing” as a verb for Internet searches, I’m cutting her some slack.

As for me, I eventually found a job I love that is flexible around the needs of my family. In case you’re a mom or dad in a situation similar to mine, here are a few tips for helping to negotiate the best arrangement for you.

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Don’t assume

I made the mistake of thinking my history of hard work would make a difference when asking for a flexible work arrangement–I always worked hard whether I was at home, in the office, or traveling. But this was mostly irrelevant. What it really came down to in the end was my job description and the day-to-day needs of my team, and they determined they needed someone in my role in the office every day.

Be prepared

Don’t wait to discuss your options. If you’re expecting a baby or your family has changing needs that may require reworking your schedule, research your options and be proactive. Anything can happen, and the more time you have to address possibilities, the better your outcome. The more time you have to sell yourself as an excellent candidate for a flexible work arrangement, the better.

Understand that there are limits

Be aware of what your company’s culture and policies are and don’t expect an exception to be made for you. If your company doesn’t allow working from home, don’t think they will change the rules for you.

Be honest

I’m now often asked how I found a job that allows for flexibility. The simple answer is that I asked for it. When I decided to go back to work, my cover letter explained what my needs and expectations (within reason) were. If you want to employ this strategy, be aware that some employers might not give you a second look. Interviewers can’t ask about your family situation, and most HR professionals will tell you that bringing up your kids or spouse in an interview is a big no-no. However, I ignored this directive and was completely honest, HR professionals be damned. I wanted employers to get the entire picture of me as a person, and I didn’t ever want to have to choose between family and career again.

I am both a talented employee AND a parent. It’s entirely possible to find a space where those two things can coexist, but you have to know how and where to find it.

Photo by: eric hayes

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Kristin Jimison

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