Yes, please freeze my eggs: Apple and Facebook’s new game-changing benefit

Oocyte cryopreservation

In a very cool move, Facebook and Apple have decided to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs as a benefit, reports NBC News. Facebook started doing this recently and Apple will apparently begin in 2015.

Apple has said that it will pay its full and part-time employees US$20 000 for the procedure and the storage of the frozen eggs. The procedure usually costs around US$10 000 in the United States, with annual storage costs running to around US$500. African companies take note.

The procedure, medically known as Human oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing), allows a woman’s eggs (oocytes) to be extracted, frozen and stored. The eggs can be thawed, fertilized, and transferred to the uterus as embryos at a later stage when the woman decides to have a baby.

“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 treatments,” Apple said in a statement. “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 news has, of course, sparked a lot of coverage and commentary. According to Valleywag, this is just another way Silicon Valley is enforcing the obsessive work mentality that currently exists in society.

“The perk enforces Silicon Valley’s obsessive work mentality and gender progress—so, in this case, women can have it all! Perhaps Facebook and Apple will even pressure other corporations to follow suit,” says the site.

“… I imagine most working women would exercise this option in a heartbeat because of the huge financial and personal cost of continuing to hustle, crush it, and shut up in their careers while biologically constrained. This subsidizes the cost of choosing when to prioritize having children,” the site continues.

Perhaps, this does indeed promote an obsessive work culture that forces you to but your biology on ice as it were, but so what? Women in the workplace are forced into two corners: the ball-busters who will do anything to get ahead and the nurturers who give up careers or try to juggle work and family. The workplace doesn’t really give women a choice on which category they should be in.

“Egg freezing is one in a long line of innovative HR practices intended to be attractive to educated people with many employment options, seeking a focus on flexibility in the difficult balance between work and life. The costs appear to be moderate, although not trivial, at about 20 per cent of average annual salary at these firms,” says Professor James Hayton of Warwick University.

“The benefits, in terms of attracting and retaining employees, can be expected to significantly outweigh the costs. The positive PR will pay for itself by signalling these employers’ values, with respect to women’s control over this important life choice, to prospective female employees.”

What if I don’t want to have children right now? What if I want to wait till I am confident I can take on prenatal responsibilities or am financially ready? Should I wait around until my eggs dry up? What Facebook and Apple have done is give women the choice to make that decision at a later date.

It is bad enough that nature already screws women over by allowing our eggs to dry out after a certain age while men just carry on. Shouldn’t women be given the opportunity to beat the fertility clock that by freezing their eggs?

“Imagine a world in which life isn’t dictated by a biological clock. If a 25-year-old banks her eggs and, at 35, is up for a huge promotion, she can go for it wholeheartedly without worrying about missing out on having a baby. She can also hold out for the man or woman of her dreams,” Emma Rosenblum argued a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story earlier this year.

If you look at the way women in the workplace are treated when it comes to the gift of childbearing, is it any wonder that they would rather choose how and when that happens?

That said, I do agree with Valleywag up to a point. The pressures of the workplace make it seem as if our entire lives should be dedicated to our careers. This is particularly true for people who work in tech startups and are desperate to prove themselves; for young people wanting to excel; for working women who don’t want to fall behind because the pressure is that much higher.

“…critics might note that while perks such as these are very impressive and innovative, broader pay equity might be an even stronger signal of the importance of women in the workforce,” adds Professor Hayton.

Despite the criticism Facebook and Apple’s initiatives have received — and will still receive — I would argue that these companies are giving women freedom and choice over a very important decision. Hopefully this will lead to more thought going into a more balanced culture for men and women in the workplace. I hope in the future we begin to change how see parents in the workplace, with better paternity packages for fathers and contributions towards childcare.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.



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