When Apple and Facebook announced earlier this week that they are (or will soon be) offering female employees compensation for having their eggs frozen for nonmedical reasons, there was much rejoicing. This is one more way companies can make it easier to lean in (fittingly offered by Facebook, home of Lean In author and COO Sheryl Sandberg). And yet, it could also offer a new set of problems for working women.
“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 company said in a statement about the perk, which will be included among other fertility treatments beginning in January. Facebook has already been covering costs of the process up to $20,000.
Cryogenic egg preservation — which only recently graduated from experimental status — allows a woman to save her eggs when she’s most fertile, but not necessarily ready to start a family, and potentially use them later, when she’s found the right partner and made it to a comfortable place in her career. It’s not foolproof, of course. According to Reuters, there isn’t any data on the success of eggs frozen from a woman in her 20s and used in her 30s or 40s, but Jennifer Eaton of the Duke Fertility Center told the wire service that centers are reporting “comparable live birth rates” among women who use frozen eggs.
Great, we think. The pressure’s off. We can compete with men and don’t have to worry about the biological countdown. This is one step closer to putting women on a level playing field with men.
If this option isn’t thrown back in our faces as the right choice for women who want to get ahead. If this isn’t going to backfire on the women who do choose to have children, at whatever age. If that $20,000 benefit is not seen as a cost-saving measure to avoid paying for maternity leave, family health insurance, and sick days. If working mothers aren’t looked down upon by their unburdened counterparts.
Only then this can remain a positive move.
Now that it’s socially acceptable (or expected) for women to wait longer to have children, the decision to start a family is already weighted with the knowledge of everything we’ll be giving up. Often, when mothers go back to work full-time, we find ourselves unable to put in the same long hours we used to (or, if we do, we feel guilty about it), and we go home to another job. If employers think they’ve offered us a way of putting all that off, will they be less understanding of parents?
A small analogy: Before smart phone and remote access, afterhours work communication took place only in case of an emergency or impending deadline. Now, it’s standard operating procedure to continue every work conversation until bedtime, which happens with our phones by our pillows…just in case. Will egg-freezing be the new 24-hour email access? An option that’s not so optional?
The answer is going to be up to all of us. Employers, employees, childless adults and parents all need to view this as a personal choice — not an expectation — regardless of who is paying. Just as our employers don’t dictate how we spend our money, or what other medical procedures we undergo, let’s make sure they keep out of this decision too.