Silicon Valley chickens and women’s eggs

15 Oct

When I read on Twitter that egg-freezing was being offered by Apple and Facebook as a perk to women employees, I thought it was a joke. But then I went and looked for coverage and found that it is in fact true. Gender pay gap? We’ve a quick fix for that darling, we’ll give you $20,000 to freeze your eggs so that you can concentrate on your work and compete on equal terms with our male employees in those crucial childbearing career-building years. Yes, we can level the playing field with invasive surgery and new technology – don’t worry about the fact that success rates are hazy, that according to nbc reporting,doctors recommend freezing at least 20 eggs, which means two cycles of treatment – thus basically blowing the entire $20,000 ‘perk’.

Or, for those really ahead of the curve, a woman could freeze one round of eggs at age 25, this would account for the first $10,000 of the ‘employee benefit’, and then there would be a $500 per year storage charge for as long as the eggs remain frozen. Oh happy days! In a reputable news source in the early 21st century it is reported that this may mean that at ‘35, [when she] is up for a huge promotion, she can go for it wholeheartedly without worrying about missing out on having a baby’ . These words are apparently seriously quoted. Perhaps this is because it is a US news source – the wealthiest country on the planet today has no maternity leave, paternity or parental leave – a position it shares only with Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.

Should a woman choose to freeze her own eggs for whatever reason that is one thing. But when an employer says ‘I’ll freeze your eggs so you don’t have to worry about losing out while you climb the greasy pole on our terms’, I think we should all step back and analyse what is happening very carefully.  The first thing I thought when I read about this is that hoary old song from My Fair Lady -‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ Rather than thinking how the workplace might better accommodate parenthood and any kind of ‘balance’ in life for executives of both sexes, they’ve hit on a technological fix to make the status quo ‘work’ for women. There’s a line in that (even less PC than I remembered) song that rings incredibly true to this whole mindset – Rex Harrison asks of women ‘Why don’t they straighten out the mess that’s inside?’ – a view which fits perfectly with the tech companies’ vision of extracting those problematic, perishable eggs to re-insert when ‘convenient’. We have to ask when convenient for whom. There are few words in the Forbes article covering this item which give a clue: the ‘perk’ is offered to women and their male partners; and a few others are cited in the nbc article: ’offering this benefit “can help women be more productive human beings.”’ Is it time to be very afraid? If a man or a company asked me to freeze my eggs I know what I’d say to them …

Meanwhile, back in the land of the ‘level playing field’ I thought that the idea was that we looked at the possibilities that technology offers for more flexible work arrangements, that empowerment comes from combining employment with family life. I thought that the skills we all gain and the knowledge we acquire from the demands of our closest relationships has real value – the kind of value that transfers to the workplace, as we endeavour to solve problems with other people. I thought technology was giving us new opportunities to flex and adapt the current corporate system to incorporate employee well-being and the returns that this brings. That’s what I’d call innovation. But clearly Silicon Valley is way too chicken for that.

 

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6 Responses to “Silicon Valley chickens and women’s eggs”

  1. Gerhard Pretorius (@familiality) October 15, 2014 at 1:18 PM #

    Hi

    You’re right. This is a rather strange way to try and promote equality. Rather than trying to work towards a ‘both / and” kind of solution, they opted for an “either / or ” solution. It seems to imply that one has to either have a career, or have children. In a strange way its also a kind of double bind. On the surface the message is that you should not have to miss out on a promotion if you want to have children, yet, few employers who give you a wonderful promotion would be tolerant of you having children after just giving you the promotion. So, even if you did freeze those eggs, would they accommodate you to have those children that might come from the eggs afterwards? My thought is ‘probably not’. they offer a ‘pie in the sky’ perk that solves nothing.

    This ‘perk’ also promotes inequality in another way. It implies that you should build your career when young, rather than later. It implies that the world of work is for the young, and that you cannot possibly return to work after having children and still build a good career. Can older women not have successful careers?

    It also implies that the only people playing a role in family life is mothers. What about fathers?

    Either way this is rather horrifying and shows that whoever drafted this knows little about gender issues.

    Thank you for the post.

    Best Wishes

    Gerhard (Familiality)
    http://www.familiality.abft.co.uk
    http://www.facebook.com/familiality

    • Joanna October 15, 2014 at 8:06 PM #

      The whole idea of the workplace and/or other individuals “breaking & entering” into a married couple’s relationship & plans is ugly & hideous. A crime against personal biology.
      It is very complicated.
      A “career” versus “a child” – only a computer based “person” could come up with that! Children are forever & family. The job in computers is just a job.

    • The Ghost in the Machine October 16, 2014 at 7:42 AM #

      They haven’t mentioned surrogacy as an option to carry the resulting eggs therefore not even having to be pregnant at all. Win win I would imagine but then who would look after the resulting child? Someone needs to do it however much of an inconvenience it causes employers.

  2. Ciara October 15, 2014 at 9:29 PM #

    Enjoyed your article.. think the whole idea is a frightening insight into high tech culture and their expectations.

  3. wonklifebalance October 16, 2014 at 10:38 AM #

    Thanks for your comments! I hope we hear more about flexible working now too

  4. Sarah Gibson Yates October 20, 2014 at 7:54 PM #

    I really agree with your concerns. There is also the practical issue of when IS the right time? ‘So I have this great job but 30’s approaching let’s freeze the eggs but when is a good time to unfreeze them?’ There is never a good time to have children – as anyone who has them will agree or at least sympathize. Freezing your egg just postpones that question with not a great deal more confidence that succefful fertilization will take place anyway. Wrote a bit more about this here –

    http://nearlynetworked.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/when-is-a-good-time-to-have-children-apple-and-facebook-says/

    hope you don’t mind me posting a link 🙂

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