Putting iBabies on ice
I’ve been neglecting my blog during the last few months. But a trans-Atlantic move turns your life upside down, so I’ve tried not to be too hard on myself.
But then I came across a story and I just knew I had to write about it. Can you guess what it is? Nope? No ideas?
Egg freezing! Facebook and Apple have decided to add egg freezing to the extensive list of benefits they offer employees. Now that I’m living in the heartland of all things tech it’s been hard to ignore the vociferous debate between those in favour and those who say the whole thing’s gone to far.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reproductive choice and I don’t have any problems with egg freezing per se. Essentially it’s just another option on the list of technologies that allow women and men to control when and if they have children. And it can give peace of mind to many.
Egg freezing (like sperm freezing) can be a lifeline to women who have to undergo medical treatment that may leave them sterile. It may also be of huge consolation to a woman who knows she wants children but is waiting for the right partner to come along. It might also be an excellent option for a woman who’s concentrating on her career but wants the chance to have children later in life. There are many reasons to freeze your eggs and they are all valid.
My problem is that employers are offering to pay for the procedure. Whilst they may be doing so out of a genuine desire to provide choice, there’s no doubt that egg freezing benefits the company too. They delay pesky maternity leave, they reduce the number of women rushing out the door to pick up children from school, and they minimise the number of people leaving careers that don’t fit with family life.
But if both women and businesses can benefit, is there any serious harm? Well firstly, egg freezing and IVF come with no guarantees. Of course, doing things the old fashioned way doesn’t either, but your chances of a successful pregnancy are much greater and you’ll have a lot more fun in the process.
My real worry is not for the women who choose to freeze their eggs – I assume they’re making an informed decision and are aware of the odds of getting pregnant later on. It’s for the women who choose not to freeze their eggs. Where does this leave them?
The women who freeze their eggs can be counted on not to procreate until later in life. Presumably they will receive the same preferential treatment as men, because businesses can rely on them not to get distracted by family matters until they’re into their forties.
Women without eggs on ice will become a suspicious bunch – they could potentially pop one out at any minute! I doubt managers will want to risk these ticking time bombs with special projects or a promotion when there’s another man or woman (with frozen eggs) who’s a safer bet.
There will be a negative impact both for women who want a career and babies before forty, as well as women who have no intention of having children at all.
We can’t escape the fact that most people assume all women want children. Children and family are still far more closely associated with women than with men. Even women who are very clear that they don’t want children have complete strangers deliver pearls of wisdom like: you’ll regret it when you’re older/you just haven’t found the right guy yet/choosing a child-free life is selfish.
Of course, whether you want children or not should be no ones business except yours and your partners (if you have one). It’s certainly not the business of your employer. But once employers start paying for egg freezing, suddenly your intimate business becomes part of office politics.
If businesses want to improve the number of women in senior roles they need to offer a working culture that supports women and accommodates a family life for male and female employees. The tech giants in Silicon Valley actually have a pretty good record on parental leave and flexibility, when compared with other American companies.
But clearly they haven’t got the balance or the culture right yet. At Facebook just 31% of employees are women, just 23% are in leadership roles and the percentage of those in the hallowed tech positions drops to 15%. Facebook knows there’s work to be done.
But can employer-sponsored egg freezing really be the answer? It may well be for some women, but I think the consequences will set back progress for others. And real progress should be inclusive – it should benefit all women.
So, by all means freeze your eggs, just don’t let your boss pay for it.
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