The Big Freeze
I’m not talking about Boston’s weather this winter. I’m talking about the much discussed new employee benefit that Apple and Facebook just introduced. Egg freezing.
Just so everyone understands what it is — the scientific name is Oocyte Cryopreservation. It allows women to freeze and store their eggs until they want to start their families. Egg freezing effectively suspends the ticking of a woman’s biological clock.
Although egg freezing has been available in the U.S. for nearly a decade, it has mostly been used with cancer patients facing infertility from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Facebook and Apple have now made it a benefit — paying $20,000 for the procedure to any female employee who wants it. Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase also offer it but have kept it very low key. Microsoft offers a variation of it, and Google is weighing it as an option.
The fact is that the years when women dedicate time and energy to their educations and careers are also the time of peak fertility. The career battle is most intense when employees are in their 20’s and 30’s. Having a high-powered career and children at that age is a very hard thing for women to do. Proponents therefore say that by offering this benefit, companies are investing in women and supporting them in carving out the lives they want.
Reasons to be cynical:
In typical high tech, engineer fashion Facebook and Apple believe that there must be a solution to every problem if only the right “code” can be found. High tech employers are already doing a lot to ensure that their workforce’s primary focus is on productivity — not distractions. And having babies is definitely a distraction.
They provide free haircuts, on-site medical centers, dry cleaners and shuttle buses to take employees to/from work. Facebook is even building an apartment complex for employees within biking distance to encourage minimal time away from work. So is egg freezing just another way to remove a distraction?
Reasons not to be cynical:
In all fairness Facebook and Apple also offer female employees help when they leave work in favor of having children. Facebook gives new parents (male or female) four months of paid leave. They also give them $4,000 in “baby cash”. In addition they subsidize day care when a mother returns to work. Apple offers expectant mothers four weeks of paid leave before birth, and fourteen weeks after birth.
Benefits are social indicators. They reveal what we value, as a culture. While being included as a health benefit is new and may just be part of the Valley’s perks arms race now, egg-freezing could eventually become a cultural norm.
What’s next? Well, how about vasectomies for young male employees that can be reversed once they hit a pay level of $100,000 or age 40? Hmmm . . . something tells me a benefit like that wouldn’t be received with the same amount of enthusiasm.