Unless you've been off the Internet for the last two years — and if so, good for you — the endless barrage of women may or may not "have it all" articles has painted a bleak picture of the average working American woman. When it comes down to it, American women can't "have it all" without certain work-life balance systems in place. For two Silicon Valley companies, their new system may be a reproductive-rights game changer: Facebook and Apple will now cover egg freezing for female employees who want to delay child rearing as they move up the digital ladder. While this new practice is innovative — and has its perks — is this truly the way American women can "have it all?"
According to NBC News, Facebook and Apple are the two largest U.S. companies to offer egg-freezing benefits to their employees. Facebook has already begun covering the costs of egg freezing, while Apple will start subsidizing the practice in January.
Both Facebook and Apple will reportedly cover egg-freezing charges up to $20,000 — a huge benefit, particularly because freezing your eggs can have a hefty price tag. According to the website Egg Freezing Costs, the practice can cost a woman anywhere from $6,500 to $18,000 for just one cycle, which takes about four to six weeks to complete.
But even with the cost of procedure fully covered, is this the way for working women to "lean in" like Sheryl Sandberg?
Egg-freezing subsidies are certainly a way for Silicon Valley to grant further incentives to its current and prospective female employees, but some critics are wary of the motivation behind the practice — and the message it's sending to young and middle-age women. After all, shouldn't the message be "we value all women workers, whether single, married, mothers or childless," rather than "we prefer childless women for as long as possible?"
For Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics codirector Glenn Cohen, this might not be the best direction for influential companies like Apple and Facebook to take. According to NBC News, Cohen wrote in a blog post on the topic last year, framed around female attorneys at law firms:
In the case of law firms, I am curious about the PR implications for the firm. Would potential female associates welcome this option knowing that they can work hard early on and still reproduce, if they so desire, later on? Or would they take this as a signal that the firm thinks that working there as an associate and pregnancy are incompatible?
His latter question is an interesting one, to be sure, and points to one of the main problems working women of reproductive age still face. Shouldn't we spend our money, time, and efforts on ensuring that women aren't discriminated against for being pregnant or mothers? And what about incentives for women to stay in the workforce even after they have children?
According to the website Working Mothers, which compiles a list of the top 100 companies for women with children each year, the best companies for working mothers are the ones that "support [women] with fully paid leave" and provide "benefits like child-care support, flexible schedules, and telecommuting."
Facebook already provides four months of paid paternity and maternity — same-sex couples included — and $4,000 in "baby cash," a Facebook spokesperson told The New York Times. And earlier this month, Apple announced a new maternity-leave policy for expectant mothers, who now have four weeks paid leave prior to giving birth, and up to 14 weeks (three-and-a-half months) of paid leave after the baby arrives. Meanwhile, fathers at the company can take up to six weeks leave.
However, neither company offers subsidized daycare or even an on-campus daycare facility for their employees. Instead, Facebook offers a doggie daycare.
Offering benefits for women who freeze their eggs may help recruit younger, childless talent, but it still places pressure on women who feel like they have an expiration date in the workplace. Retaining pregnant women and working mothers would probably be a more worthwhile end goal.
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