Delaying Motherhood: Will it work?
As you may have probably heard by now, Apple and Facebook had stated that they would be covering up to $20,000 of their employees’ egg freezing costs. The statement has received mixed reactions so far and, it seems that the debate will continue for a long time.
So what is egg freezing exactly? It is a procedure known as oocyte cryopreservation in which, a woman’s eggs are extracted, frozen and stored for future use. A round of freezing eggs costs something between $7,000-$12,000, plus the annual fees for drugs and storage that vary between $1,000 and $3,000.
In 2012, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted up the “experimental” title from the procedure yet warned against misleading women and it stated “Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing”.
Traditionally, the method was used for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy yet Dr. Jamie Grifo, the program director of the New York University Fertility Center, states that in 2013, the majority of egg freezing cases were elective.
The supporters claim that the application gives the women the option to choose when they would like to have children without the pressure of a ticking biological clock. The experience seems to be psychologically liberating as well, as 53% of the women who have frozen their eggs describe the experience as “empowering”.
Despite its advantages, the new policy should also be evaluated from a critical perspective. First and foremost, egg freezing is no guarantee of getting pregnant. In addition to ASRM’s warning on “giving women false hope”, National Center for Health Research explains that “fewer than 1 in 4 women can expect to get pregnant and have a baby” after successfully freezing the eggs.
It is also important to look at how this coverage will affect the culture of the organization. Seven years ago, Christy Jones, the CEO of Extend Fertility, reached to companies to inquire about including egg freezing in their benefits yet got a pushback as they stated “Well, we don’t want to seem Machiavellian, that we’re paying to freeze a woman’s eggs so she just keeps working harder”. Such attitude might exacerbate the discrimination against women in career advancement issues, as their colleagues will have the impression that they could have waited. Glenn Cohen from Harvard Law School examines the implications of such policies and asks if such policies imply that work and pregnancy are incompatible.
Addressing, the alarmingly low numbers of women in technology should start with treating the causes, not the symptoms. Currently, women account for only 30% and 31% of the workforce in Apple and Facebook, respectively. Additionally, according to a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 56% of women in tech, leave their careers at the mid-level, double the quit rate of men. Fortune’s study on 716 women who left tech shows that 68% cites motherhood as a reason to leave tech although only a small 6% wants to be stay home mothers. Most mothers would have happily returned to their jobs if the maternity policies were better. These numbers, combined with a 19% of women who’s frozen their eggs saying “they might have had a child earlier if their workplace had been more flexible” from New York University’s 2013 survey, show that the real problem lies within the compatibility of parenting and work.
Although, tech companies offer long maternity leaves and cash support, some fail to offer resources to support their employees in parenting. Facebook, for instance, announced plans for a $120 million housing community with amenities that even included a bicycle repair shop and a doggy care but no daycare for kids. Similar to Michael Lee, I would have preferred to see these companies come up with creative solutions that changed the corporate cultures without penalizing women for motherhood.
Lastly, no matter what our stance is in the issue, I think we all should consider the following questions posed in Quora:
- What effect does this benefit have on fetal/maternal health and aggregate health care spending?
- Is there a comparable benefit provided to men?
- What behavioral effects will this have on affected employees?
Please comment below and get a discussion started!