In the latest installment of the technology industry’s lack of accessibility to women, Facebook and Apple unveiled a policy, offering $20,000 toward the costs of egg-freezing. The procedure, made possible by technological advancements, allows women to extend their fertility by freezing eggs that they can then unfreeze to bear children at a later date. I’m not entirely against the idea of egg freezing. It does, after all, take away the biological pressure for women to have children in their 20s and 30s. Yet, it undoubtedly reinforces the idea that the tech industry fosters a workplace that caters to single males. By choosing to cover egg-freezing procedures without accompanied paid maternal and family leave and greater work flexibility, Facebook and Apple are encouraging business policies that delay but do not solve the problem of work-family balance.
Females in technology already face several obstacles in the workplace. Women represent 17 percent of software engineers, they get paid less than their male counterparts and many technology companies demand long hours from their employees. In an industry where career growth happens early on and young talent is especially valued, it makes sense that Facebook and Apple would move to provide egg-freezing benefits to its employees. They’re ensuring a way to even the playing field and to allow women to gain higher positions that might otherwise have been limited to them had they taken maternity leave. Yet the problem, which seems glaringly obvious, is that women should not have to be penalized for having children in their 20s or 30s. Facebook and Apple are inherently encouraging a single mindset for ambitious young women in the technology field: Work your way up the career ladder now, have children later. Now, women who choose to have children earlier in their careers have to compete with women who choose to freeze their eggs and male coworkers who don’t have to take maternity leave. Invariably, this will create a work environment with a greater pressure to conform to these company ideals.
Currently, the conversation about egg-freezing is centered around workplace policies that cover the costs until a woman decides that she’s going to have children. Regardless of whether she’s in her 20s, 30s, 40s or later, Facebook and Apple conveniently left out what happens after someone decides to have children. What about paid maternity leave? Paid family care for employees? Flexible hours? These companies missed a prime opportunity to truly revolutionize the workplace for females who choose to have children, not only for the technology industry, but for American workplaces in general. Egg-freezing is just one piece of a larger solution to encourage diversity and work-family balance, and as such, cannot act as a substitute.
Twenty thousand dollars per employee is a drop in the bucket for companies such as Facebook and Apple, especially so because of their relatively small number of female employees and the persistent gender wage gap. Ultimately, these companies’ goals when it comes to reproductive benefits coverage should be to empower women to make choices like whether to have children earlier, later or not at all, without having to worry about career repercussions. This comes from providing paid maternity leave, paid childcare services and more flexible work hours. As a young woman in technology, I look forward to working in an industry that not only recognizes the need for gender diversity and inclusion, but also takes thoughtful steps to ensure an environment where I feel empowered to lead a successful career and family at any stage of life.
Graphic by Padya Paramita ’17