Sisterhood is powerful. Or at least it’s supposed to be. But then Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer announced last week that the company’s employees would no longer be able to work from home. While this no doubt affected many men at the company, women in particular cried foul. Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss blasted Mayer for the move, saying, “What women need is the tools, and respect, to make career choices for themselves. That’s hardly a secret. So why is it that the corporate top-achievers -- so accomplished, so intelligent -- seem to be the last to know?”
Mayer says she had good reasons for making the decision and observers of Yahoo noted that she was simply putting the company in line with the rest of Silicon Valley. At tech companies it has become widely acknowledged that interpersonal contact among employees breeds more creativity and innovation. Having your employees sit at home in their pajamas may work fine if they’re just crunching some numbers, but they won’t have much chance of coming up with The Next Big Thing.
Mayer, the feminists suppose, should support more flexible schedules for women because they want women to succeed. Mayer told the makers of a recent PBS documentary on Betty Friedan that she is not much of a feminist. It turns out that she cares more about Yahoo succeeding (or even about Marissa Mayer succeeding) than about women succeeding.
And she’s not alone.
Peggy Drexler writes in the Wall Street Journal Review section this week that older women are not mentoring younger women at the office. And, in fact, senior women may actually be undermining their junior female colleagues. She describes “Queen Bee Syndrome."
The term was coined in the 1970s, after a study “found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women.” “This occurred,” the researchers argued, “largely because the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority.”
Drexler claims the problem still exists today and many young women are confused about why senior women in their fields don’t seem to be looking out for them. But she also says that these queen bees have every right to feel insecure because there are so few of them relatively speaking in the corporate world.
To be honest, I find these complaints and the ones about Mayer fairly tiresome. Anyone who has been to middle school knows that sisterhood is not very powerful at all. Maybe I came too late to the sexual revolution to see any great displays of female solidarity. I have seen plenty of female friendships and even women in the office who are nice to other women. But camaraderie among women just because they are women is rare. The assumption that it would be there is a bit condescending. If we are ever to get closer to a meritocracy -- and further away from this idea that picking leaders in corporate, government and nonprofit environments is just a matter of checking off boxes -- then we might as well start with the notion that Queen Bees and Lion Kings (or whatever you’d call the male equivalent) are just part of life.