Women who cannot have children now but would like to have them later will obviously love the idea of employers paying to freeze their eggs. But what Facebook and Apple are offering is neither a miracle solution nor the “great equalizer” it’s being made out to be.
Paying women workers for delaying motherhood basically amounts to saying that women should be encouraged to work for longer in a milieu that essentially views child bearing as a barrier, routinely penalizes mothers in devious ways and considers child rearing as mainly a woman's job. At best, it’s a consolation prize for those who gave up their best childbearing years to work. It reinforces a sexist position and is perfectly in line with the ruthless “work is life” culture.
Would privileged mothers in power jobs (such as the Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg herself) have taken such an offer had it existed in their time? They certainly seem to think it can help. Sandberg famously said “no one can have it all” but that’s true because there are fundamental problems in the way workplaces are designed and not because achievers like her have accepted that the “lousy worker” vs “lousy mother” dilemma is an unchangeable existential reality.
The real problem is not in women’s biological clocks but in the system that sees this clock as ticking against the “natural progression” at work. Why should this progression be more “natural” than couples having children? Instead of paying women to tinker with their bodies, how about fixing the work ethic that forces motherhood and work to be pitted against each other?
Frozen eggs are no guarantee, really!
“The Fatherhood Bonus and the Motherhood Penalty”, a recent report by the research group Third Way, showed that in the US, a child helps your career if you are man. Employers see fathers as more “stable” whereas mothers are seen as working less and “distractible” when on the job. Men are more likely to be hired and paid more after they have children. Childless women on the other hand get better paid than working mothers.
Things are worse in India, which ranks among the worst countries in the world for gender parity and lowest among BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) according to last year’s Global Gender Gap report. The general assumption that children are a problem for working women is a big problem in itself. Inequality in childcare-sharing at home and the masculine ethos at work gets to many women in the end. Those who can afford to, lean back.
Egg freezing is being hastily hailed as female friendly. Trust the male dominated tech industry to come up with “fertility packages” to attract women! While they are at it, can they also do something about their ruthless work culture where being “at work round the clock” is held in high esteem, making it impossible for parents to compete with younger or childless colleagues?
Wage equity, full time childcare support, working remotely or on flexible hours are the most empowering solutions. But will these followers of the ruthless “work is life” cult ever find these sexy enough?
If employers really must offer this egg freezing, why not also give it to male workers? After all, both parents are involved in the “project” and must share the costs and responsibilities?
Egg freezing and other fertility treatments done on women are very expensive (reportedly as high as $10000 per treatment in the US. Mostly two rounds required with an additional cost of $500 per year. Facebook is offereing $20,000). Why add this to only women workers’ "cost-to-company"? Recruiters already see maternity as a liability.
This technology is not a magic solution either because it’s relatively new and unproven, with a 30-50% success rate. And is “later” when your career is peaking always the best time to stop and have kids? What about women who want to be mothers in their 30s? Will employers expect them to postpone motherhood to prioritise work?
Such perks cannot really be considered“pro-choice" until workplace sexism ceases to be endemic. For the moment, egg freezing can only work as “first aid” for women trapped in the current system. But our eyes should be set on the real cure: changing the workplace to become less sexist and more parent friendly.
In the meantime, those getting the perk should definitely use it to defeat biology if they can, but unless we call the employers’ bluff and ask for much more, we’ll only be getting short changed.