Employees at many Silicon Valley tech companies already enjoy a long list of high-end benefits, including gourmet dining, free dry cleaning, de-stressing massages, wearable devices, and on-site gyms. Now two tech giants, Apple and Facebook, will be offering female employees a new benefit: paying for freezing their eggs.
Last week, both companies announced new policies that subsidize elective egg freezing for up to $20,000 (about two rounds of harvesting). The benefit is an add-on to a long list of health care perks already available to employees: subsidies to fertility treatments and adoptions along with paid parental leave policies. Facebook also offers parents $4,000 of "baby cash" upon the arrival of a new child.
Nearly 70% of the employees at Apple and Facebook are men. The companies, along with others in the industry, have started putting a greater focus on hiring and retaining women to close the gender gap. Egg freezing is the newest perk in the health benefits race that they hope will attract female talent. Facebook reported to NPR that women were requesting the option, while Apple claimed the offering would allow "women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families."
The policy has been both heralded as a tool for progressive empowerment that levels the playing field between men and women and also criticized as a weak band-aid being slapped onto systemic workplace inequality issues. Advocates of the policy point out that it's completely elective and offers more reproductive choices for women. Compared to men, women face fertility challenges much sooner in life. Female fertility peaks around 28-30 years of age, and having the ability to freeze their eggs give women the option to use them later. Just like other forms of insurance, even if women do not plan on using it, they may be happy to have the coverage as an option. Subsidizing the treatment also expands the choice to women who may not be able to afford the expensive process.
However, critics of the policies say that the option is veiled as a perk, but hides the underlying message that being a mother and being a valuable employee are incompatible. Egg freezing allows a woman to postpone having children but does not address the problems that make women delay parenthood in the first place. Women with children traditionally start at a lower pay rate, make less money over time, are passed up for promotions and raises, and are often edged out of their roles altogether. On the other hand, fathers are more likely to be hired than childless men, and many men tend to be given raises or promotions after having children (New York Times, 9/6/14).
What Apple and Facebook are framing as a perk, many see as the problem. The policy implies that in order to succeed in the working world, women need to postpone or forego having a family and does nothing to solve systemic workplace bias that views women as less productive and less valuable employees. Rather than adjusting workplace environments to value mothers just as much as other workers, egg freezing could make tech businesses even harder to work for than they already are. Even though the option is elective, the policy puts more pressure on women to delay starting a family. Women who choose to have children earlier during their naturally fertile period of life could be viewed as less valuable employees who may be passed up for career advancement opportunities because of their choice to forgo the egg freezing.
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