This morning, the news broke that Facebook and Apple will now help cover female employees’ elective procedures to freeze their eggs, at a cost of up to $US20,000.
Make no mistake: this is great news for women in tech.
At first it seems a little creepy — are these companies encouraging egg-freezing? — but in reality, this is a move that removes a major financial barrier to women being able to control their reproductive timelines, at a time in their careers when even the most well-off might not have an extra $US20,000 laying around.
As it stands, the age of 35 is an albatross for most women. If you wait much longer, your fertility declines (gradually, but declining all the same). Sure, a natural, biological conception can happen, but it’s much harder. Freezing eggs helps to put off the psychological panic that comes with knowing that you are approaching fertility decline and still seeing years of long hours in the office ahead of you. Men don’t have the same fertility decline. Having a newborn might be just as hard at 40 as it is at 30 for a father, there’s no need for men to panic that if they decide not to have children in their early 30s, they can never change their mind.
The major argument against this, made most eloquently today by Nitasha Tiku today, seems to be that “the perk enforces Silicon Valley’s obsessive work mentality.”
America’s culture of overwork is a giant, but separate issue. Changing the culture is a lofty goal (which I agree with!). But that’s moving a mountain. This is opening an existing tunnel through the mountain to a group that was previously forced to go around. Given the culture of overwork is one that exists, this is a great policy for women. There’s ample evidence that one of the major barriers to gender equality at work is women’s ability to participate fully during the first decade of their careers.
It also seems a little far-fetched that “female employees will feel pressured to freeze their eggs rather than take time out to have children, just like everyone feels pressured to always be on call to the office…” Those are two hugely different things! Freezing your eggs is not like mindlessly checking a phone during dinner. It’s horrible! It’s painful! Regardless of financial cost, there’s a physical and emotional toll that most women are not going to pay.
Then there’s the reality that the option to freeze eggs doesn’t stop the biological clock. There are plenty of women (most of them, I’ll bet you) who are going to want to have children before age 35. The time off, the career setbacks, the pay inequity — all tradeoffs that high-achieving women knowingly accept when they decide to have a kid. To most women, it’s worth it, and will continue to be worth it.
Practically, this isn’t about changing the system. It’s is about making it easier for ambitious women to exist in the world we have. And we should applaud the companies that give women this choice.