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Yahoo's Mayer, FB's Sandberg reinvigorate can-moms-have-it-all debate

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 10:47 a.m. MST

In this Friday, Jan. 28, 2011, file photo, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of the social network service Facebook, speaks during a panel session at the 41st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland.

Laurent Gillieron, Associated Press

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Marissa Mayer took short maternity leave and banned working from home, two moves some view as mom-unfriendly in the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg says women need to be all-in to compete for power in the office, something critics say isn't always doable if you don't happen to be in charge in the workplace.

Between them, the Yahoo CEO and the Facebook COO have re-ignited discussion about working moms and, to some degree, dads and what is and isn't possible when corporate America and family life meet.

"The message coming from these C-suite moms is less about empowerment and accountability than it is about guilt," wrote Joanne Bamberger in USA Today recently. She is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. "Guilt for women wanting to work remotely in oder to manage their lives and provide for their families. Guilt for not acting with more ambition. Guilt for daring to put their children and spouses on equal footing with their careers."

While Mayer tells workers who have been working part of their time, at least, from home, presumably to meet their family needs, Sandberg has told women to stand up for themselves in employment and become leaders. Accept the tradeoffs, she counsels, and compete with male employees.

The issue for Bamberger and other critics is the advice is directed at women who most likely are not CEOs and COOs with giant salaries or power. "Both have forgotten about the women who came before, enabling them to land in their lofty positions in the first place. And the duo don't want to extend the same hand to anyone else."

"In a vacuum, what Sandberg is proposing and what Mayer is ordering seem fairly compelling," wrote The Mercury News' Mike Cassidy, noting that Mayer was able to shorten her maternity leave by building a nursery in her office, something most can't do. There's room not only for her son, but for the nanny many telecommuting employees could never afford.

"But we don't live in a vacuum, and the fact is that Sandberg and Mayer share some traits that make their advice appear out of touch. Not only did both women work at Google and rise to national prominence in the business world; both are filthy rich, giving them the ability to afford squadrons of household help. And both are incredibly powerful, giving them the ability to get things done the way they want them done," he said.

"How could these two women appear to be so tone-deaf when it comes to the pressures of everyday life?" he asked.

The Street's Andrew Kosztyo has a pointier take on the two. "While Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg evangelizes the old white men at Davos on the need for women's workplace flexibility, as noted by the Daily Telegraph, Marissa Mayer, her fellow Mistress of the Universe at Yahoo! has eliminated the work-from-home option that benefits thousands of working moms, as reported by AllThingsD. Who's right? Well, the feminist blogosphere seems inclined to proclaim a pox on both their houses, as you can see at the Web site, Ph.D.inParenting.com."

It also prompted a video debate on USA Today by Mike Williams, director of Employer Services for the Clean Air Campaign in Georgia, and Debra Shigley, who wrote the the book, "The Go-Getter Girl's Guide."

Williams said that telecommuting studies show a 20 percent increase in productivity. Shigley countered that people who work from home are half as likely to be promoted because they don't have the benefit of face time and random opportunities for job training.

She also noted that Mayer may need all hands in the office because of the challenges that Yahoo is facing.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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