Silicon Valley is figuring out the single most vexing problem for ambitious working women: how to spend time with their children without ruining their careers. In an extract from the book The End Of Men, female executives at such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg reveal how they make it work. Photo: Bloomberg
This is how problems are solved in the workplace of the future: Marissa Mayer, at the time the highest-ranking woman at Google, had a bad feeling that one of her top directors, Katy, was going to quit. Katy was hard-working and well liked, but Mayer was picking up rumblings of burnout and resentment.
Mayer did not like losing women executives – there were too few to begin with at Google. She figured it was obvious what was causing the strain. Katy was a mother of three, including twins. As the leader of her Google team, she had to participate in a 1am call to Bangalore every night. Mayer assumed that with young children at home who did not necessarily sleep through the night, the calls were putting Katy over the edge. So she decided to intervene.
Mayer called Katy in and explained what she calls her “finding your rhythm” philosophy – not an alternative form of birth control but her remedy for burnout. What causes burnout, Mayer believes, is not working too hard – people, she believes, “can work arbitrarily hard for an arbitrary amount of time” – but they will become resentful if work makes them miss the things that really matter to them.
The key to sustaining dedication and loyalty is having an employee identify what he or she absolutely cannot tolerate missing, then having the employer accommodate that.
Mayer, it turns out, was wrong about the 1am phone calls. Katy loved her job and didn’t mind staying up late to help out. What was bothering her was something entirely different. Often, Katy confessed, she showed up late at her children’s events because a meeting went on overly long, for no important reason other than meetings tend to. And she hated having her children watch her walk in late.
So Mayer instituted a rule: if Katy had told her earlier that she had to leave at four, then Mayer would make sure Katy could leave at four. Even if there were only five minutes left to a meeting, even if Google co-founder Sergey Brin himself was mid-sentence and expecting an answer from Katy, Mayer would say, “Katy’s got to go”, and Katy would walk out of the door and answer the questions later by email after the kids were in bed.
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