In an announcement that has quickly made headlines across the tech industry, Apple and Facebook have publicly announced plans to include egg-freezing in their list of perks for their female employees. Egg-freezing is a relatively new procedure by which the ova are taken out and frozen with the intent of delaying pregnancy. In vitro fertilization IVF – the process of manually combining an egg with sperm, and then transferring the fertilized egg to the uterus – is utilized whenever the mother is ready to have a baby.
This news has been met by the public with an onslaught of mixed feelings. Many have supported the technology giants’ decisions to improve benefits for women in the workplace, hoping that this is a step in the right direction, given that women are severely underrepresented in the tech industry. According to Apple’s “diversity” page, only 30 percent of its employees are female, a figure that may be misleading because these statistics count gender across all fields within the company. More often than not, women tend to hold roles in management or human resources, so the actual percentage of women working in technology roles is much lower.
The context of this decision is that many women tend to leave the tech industry once they give birth due to insufficient company support for raising their children while keeping up with the work. According to a 2009 report from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, 56 percent of women in the tech industry leave midway through their careers. When companies provide each female employee with up to $20,000 for the egg-freezing procedure, women who hold highly coveted, highly competitive jobs may be able to ascend higher in their careers without having to worry about the reduced fertility that comes with age. Apple and Facebook will be the first to offer this kind of benefit to their employees, and other tech giants and smaller companies alike may soon follow suit, as is often the trend in Silicon Valley.
This “benefit,” however, might be a lot more insidious than it sounds. Many are appalled or outright disturbed by the message that this might be perpetuating through the tech industry. Many women are already delaying childbirth for the sake of their careers. The fear is that by having this expensive option available, there might be pressure to make use of it and delay starting a family even further. Egg-freezing is not a solution in itself. If women are really leaving the industry due to the lack of flexibility in the workplace to cater to the needs of motherhood, then this only serves to delay the inevitable – to squeeze a few more years out of these valuable employees who already have much experience and training.
The other, arguably more pressing issue is that this places a lot of confidence in a procedure whose success rate seems dubious at best. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has only just lifted the experimental label from egg-freezing two years ago, and the success rate is only about 30 percent. This is why the money allotted to this benefit is $20,000, just enough to cover two eggs. All this is excluding the inevitable IVF procedure, which is not only costly, but also unreliable; there are an estimated 1.5 million IVF procedures each year around the world and 1.2 million fail. In a way, Apple and Facebook may be cheating their top employees out of having children, despite whatever good intentions they might have.
The solution to women leaving the industry because their work is not compatible with motherhood should not be to delay motherhood. It should clearly be to make motherhood compatible with work. These tech giants spend so much money on making their employees’ lives comfortable so that they can do the best work. They provide an endless supply of food, gyms, massages and anything else that might make their employees’ lives easier, including having dog day care facilities at one of the compounds at Facebook. Why aren’t there day care services for actual human babies?
Perhaps if we decide to make the option of motherhood an acceptable choice at the workplace, instead of treating it as something that should be kept away and delayed for as long as possible, then we’ll be able to have more women in the tech industry and retain those already high up the ranks.
Omar Shehata ’18 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Alexandria, Egypt. He majors in computer science.