Company Paid Egg Freezing Empowering Working Women?

By Michelle Dickinson 15/10/2014

This week, Facebook and Apple shared publicly that they are or will pay for egg freezing for their female employees without a medical condition.

The media jumped on this relatively small change to the surrogacy benefit (Facebook) and fertility benefit (Apple) portion of the healthcare plans offered and sensationalist headlines took over the media suggesting that this is the great gender equaliser solution for the workplace.

This is a nice financial perk, worth up to $20,000 or the equivalent of 2 collection cycles, and women who were surveyed after having their eggs removed for freezing (not from Apple or Facebook’s new benefit package) stated that they felt empowered by the process.

Isn’t this what we want as women in tech, to feel empowered, to feel stronger and more confident from having more control in life?

I gave my thoughts on the policy on TV3’s Firstline news program this morning as a woman in engineering who is struggling to see how I could ever do both based on my busy career, but today wondered if I would consider going through this financially limiting procedure if it were offered to me for free by my employer.

Women are smart and can make their own decisions on how they plan their family, yet I worry that this new empowerment perk ignores the bigger issue of how career women are struggling to make the decision about the right time (if there is such a thing) to have children.

When you look deeper into the reasons behind why women are freezing their eggs there is a darker side.  Out of 178 women surveyed after going through the egg freezing procedure, 19% said that earlier childbearing would have been an option if their workplace had been more flexible.  These women were delaying having children because they felt that they couldn’t have both, a career and be a Mother.  It supports Anne-Marie Slaughters article on “Why Women Still Can’t have it all” as career women all over the world struggle to be at the top of their career and find time to be a Mum, especially in the tech industry which is still dominated by men.

Both Apple and Facebook have only 30% females in their workplace which drops down to 15% when you count the women in the tech departments.  This isn’t unique, but sadly pretty representative of diversity for Silicon Valley companies, which results in work environments where women may be the only female in their department.

Saving the baby issue for a later date by delaying the decision until the “right time” may be a risky decision as egg freezing was only upgraded from an “experimental” procedure two years ago by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and so is still a relatively new technology with very little data collected so far using the new freezing method of vitrification.

Not all of the frozen eggs survive the thawing process, but those that do will then need to be fertilized and if that is successful implanted as an embryo.  The study below shows that the odds of a fertilised embryo surviving to a live birth has increased over the last 10 years, but are still much lower (under 30%) for frozen (cryo) eggs compared to embryos implanted from fresh eggs.

The contribution of fresh aThe contribution of fresh and frozen-thawed embryo transfers to the number of total live births after assisted reproductive technology per age group from 1997 to 2011 in the United Statesnd frozen-thawed embryo transfers to the number of total live births after assisted reproductive technology per age group from 1997 to 2011 in the United States

Comparison of frozen (cryo) and fresh eggs on the success of a live birth after implantation for data from 1997 to 2011 in the United States

Although egg freezing allows women to remove and store eggs while they are in their prime fertility window, which tends to overlap with prime career-advancement years, it might provide a false sense of security for what the future holds with regard to the odds of becoming pregnant from frozen embryo implantation.

Facebook is working hard to retain it’s employees and helps them to work more by building an affordable housing complex next to its Menlo Park offices.  This new zone boasts features such as a dog daycare, yet doesn’t provide a childcare service adding to the difficulties that working mothers have to struggle with when juggling a career and a child.

I’m not sure that paying for women to delay pregnancy actually helps them to achieve that balance and would personally like to see tech companies implementing other benefits such as paid family leave (for both men and women), subsidised on-site child care, more flexible work hours, re-integration training for Mothers who have taken time off and support for employees who have to travel to a conference on business.

This isn’t just a female issue, as a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) shows “The desire of many fathers to spend more time with their children can be frustrated by long working hours and inflexible workplaces, leading to tensions between work and family”.  By creating workplaces that value the importance of bringing up families and creating a work/life balance while still growing a career, perhaps the pressure that women feel on having to do it all and than men feel on having to spend more time at work to push their career forward will be reduced.