Sunday, March 1, 2015

Is the Freezer Really Women’s Liberator? Part III: Just another lavish perk? Is the freezer an appropriate benefit?

In my last post I ended with a discussion about the exorbitant cost of egg freezing. Today I want to explore one potential solution to this, albeit one I do not find very settling.

Many Silicon Valley tech companies have been scrutinized for the gender inequity of their workforces. Women make up only about 30 of the workforce for Apple, Facebook, and Google, with an even smaller percentage in top leadership positions. These statistics have created a public relations problem for Silicon Valley tech firms and the “perks arm race” is one way they can try and attract top female talent.

In their attempt to garner female interest, in October, 2014, Apple acknowledged publicly that it would begin offering up to $20,000 in benefits coverage for egg freezing for nonmedical reasons. Apple’s decision put the company on par with Facebook, which began offering similar coverage in early 2014 as part of its surrogacy benefits. In a self-congratulatory press release, Apple said: 
We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cryopreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatment. We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.
The lavish perks offered by Silicon Valley companies to attract top talent are well-known: free food, shuttle service to and from work, nap pods, exercise classes, bike repair, concierge service, barbershops, and arcades, just to name a few. Employee health care and wellness benefits have also been expanded broadly. One survey found that nearly forty percent of large high-tech firms over coverage for infertility treatment, including In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Given the tread towards deluxe healthcare benefits offered by tech companies, perhaps it should have come as no surprise when Facebook and Apple announced elective egg freezing as the newest benefit for female employees. Yet, the announcement triggered a public debate that has been mostly critical of what the media has termed “corporate egg freezing.”

As J. Maureen Henderson from Forbes put it while this may be “a savvy bid to recruit and retain ambitious young women interested in tech careers, there is something unsettling about this offer.”

Is company-paid egg freezing the great gender equalizer it appears to be on its face, or actually just a false promise with negative social implications for society? As I see it, company paid egg freezing sends a message that women should put their career above having a family. To prove their dedication to career advancement, women must freeze a part of themselves. It may even cause a stigma for those women that don’t elect to undergo the procedure. The benefit creates hostile expectations for all women.

I think that for now, corporate egg freezing is irresponsible social policy as it encourages woman to engage in a medical practice that has not been scientifically endorsed for the purpose of delaying childbearing. Corporate egg freezing simply puts a Band-Aid over the larger societal need to address women’s dual role in society as mothers and workers, with policies that support women having children at any age they are ready. One day, when the science supports egg freezing as an elective procedure to delay child bearing, a corporate benefit that pays for the process may be worthy of praise. For now I think the benefit needs to be put on ice.

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