Cross-posted with The Huffington Post on December 16, 2014.
The workforces of Facebook and Apple are 69 percent and 70 percent male, and the companies have been getting a lot of flack for those figures. In their latest bid to attract and retain more women, the tech giants have come up with a technical fix: offering female employees a $20,000 benefit toward elective egg freezing.
According to a statement from Apple about the program, “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.”
Surely what they meant to say was, “We want women at Apple to spend more of their lives working for us without a family to distract them.”
The Facebook version might be, “We don’t want women leaning out to start families, so we’re paying them not to!”
The move by Apple and Facebook is a boon for the companies marketing social egg freezing in Silicon Valley, New York City and elsewhere. But despite what EggBanxx wants wealthy Manhattanites to believe, freezing your eggs is not a magic wand that will allow you to raise a family at your own pace, away from the pressures of your workplace and biological clock.
Unfortunately, when you work for a company that wants you to spend your entire life at the office, in a society that under-prioritizes all occupations traditionally undertaken by women, there will never be an ideal time to start a family.
Moreover, the chance that a frozen egg will actually result in a child is still low — much lower than the smiling babies on the fertility clinic and egg freezing websites would lead you to believe. But as Robin Marantz Henig put it after attending EggBanxx’ infamous egg freezing cocktail party, in “an evening of ‘The Three F’s: Fun, Fertility, and Freezing’ — [there are] no F’s left over for ‘Failure Rates.’”
In fact, egg freezing is still explicitly discouraged for elective, non-medical reasons by both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Not only does egg freezing fail to guarantee that you’ll end up with a child, it also poses serious and under-studied short and long-term health risks to women and children.
The process of egg retrieval involves weeks of self-delivered hormone injections to hyper-stimulate your ovaries, which can lead to nausea, bloating and discomfort, not to mention blood clots, organ failure, and hospitalization in rare cases. The surgery to remove your eggs involves a needle being inserted into your pelvis, with risk of internal bleeding and infection. Long-term impacts on women’s health are under-studied, but seem to include increased rates of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer.
Additionally, those frozen eggs can only become children if you use in vitro fertilization, which means greater risk of multiple gestation, preterm birth and fetal anomalies. It is not yet known if freezing eggs for multiple years will further impact children’s health outcomes.
What we need are family-friendly workplace policies, not giveaways that will encourage women to undergo invasive procedures in order to squeeze out more work for their beloved company under the guise of “empowerment.”
The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave. At the point that women do have children, no matter what age they are, they end up taking pay cuts whose effects can last for decades. Having one’s employer pay for egg freezing doesn’t push back against the status quo, but puts the onus on women to change themselves (Gee, why does that sound familiar?)
This policy could also send the problematic message that young women who don’t choose this option are less serious about their careers. “You want time off when? Oh by the way, do you know about this new perk we offer?”
Facebook and Apple are right to want more women in their workforce. This latest move, however, is more likely to alienate than attract them.