‘Frozen’ has take on a whole new meaning in 2014. First of all we’ve been introduced to some extremely hummable tunes from Disney that have just refused to go away and now we see the word once again in the headlines, as part of a new and far more serious story.
Apple and Facebook announced this week that they will be the first major employers to introduce a new ‘perk’ – funding egg freezing for female employees who may want to start families at some point but want to prioritise their careers as well. This supposedly allows women greater freedom in the workplace.
On the face of it, well done tech companies because this is a sizeable payout, costing far more per employee than free meals or nap pods. Egg collection requires expensive drug treatment and then ongoing monitoring of the frozen eggs, a process that isn’t cheap.
Some commentators have embraced the vision of these organizations in aiding women to delay the decision to have a family for a little longer, meet the right partner and solidify their working lives. In short, it allows women to fulfill career potential and furthers equality. After all, there is an enormous gap between the number of men and women employed in the tech industry that needs to be redressed in an age where ‘equality’ is a buzzword.
But. There’s always a ‘but’. Is this the liberating move that it’s presented as? Perhaps not and it’s not a development I’d be leaping to celebrate with my daughters or grandchildren in opening doors that were firmly closed beforehand for my generation.
This move radically overestimates the efficiency of IVF. It’s not a perfect process and it doesn’t always work so to assume that a) it will function reliably to retrieve a batch of eggs in the first place and b) it will work like magic (especially in an older womb) to implant an embryo that is carried to term is foolish and at worst totally misleading for women blinded by real pressure to climb the career ladder. The process of egg collection is not something you can do in your lunch break either (I know, I’ve done it). It requires intensive drug therapy and can be painful.
Recently published data suggests that pregnancy rates for women using eggs frozen before age 34 were nearly 50%. However that decreased to 20-25% for women who froze eggs after 38. That’s not an overwhelming rate of success in the bigger scheme of things so this isn’t a ‘cure all’.
Wouldn’t it be a better solution for companies to concentrate more on the issue of support and the removal of barriers that spring up once a woman tries to return to work after maternity leave (I was memorably given a black mark when I had to leave a conference call to pick up my son who had come down with swine flu…)?
It doesn’t matter when you have your babies – as a law firm partner or the intern who photocopies, you will always need reliable childcare as you try and attempt the Holy Grail of work/life balance.
So if you’re a company with ‘vision’, what about providing greater flexible work practices? How about offering training to mothers returning from maternity leave so they’re right back where they left off?
The working world needs to stop seeing children as an annoyance that inhibits careers and face the fact that women will always have children. How else are we going to continue the human race? What we need is for these companies to open their eyes to where the true gap lies.
Give a woman a little support and she will give you a lifetime’s hard work.