Last week, the Silicon Valley giants Facebook and Apple announced that they were to add ‘egg freezing’ to their list of company benefits for female employees. The goal? To attract and retain more female employees in its US offices. Sadly, Apple and Facebook are unaware that what was intended as an empowering perk is, in fact, an insulting blow to womankind. Not only does this move imply that women are to be chained to the corporate hamster wheel for a longer, uninterrupted stretch of time, it does so in an environment where less than 20 per cent of leadership positions are held by women. This suggests that Apple and Facebook’s notion of providing an opportunity for women to climb the career ladder is merely a vision. Essentially, the dilemma women face is to have children or aim at promotion, and this scheme puts off the former and makes a farce of the latter.
Interesting to note is the fact that sperm freezing is also being offered for their male employees, and from this, another question arises: why hasn’t this been as widely publicised? It is because this makes no difference to the current patterns of male working life. Only 13 per cent of US companies currently offer paternity leave, and, of the men working for those companies, less than one per cent actually take it.
Above all, this raises the question as to whether or not a corporate body should interfere with something as personal as family planning; it shows that the line between one’s private and professional life is becoming increasingly blurred. Egg freezing is an invasive and risky medical procedure, which should not be treated so flippantly, or seemingly forced upon women in the workplace. Previously reserved for women with real fertility issues, this process is now becoming standardised and encouraged by Apple and Facebook. A recent report from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine said: “Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing.” The science of it is equally bleak; the live birth rate from frozen eggs is, on average, just 12.5 per cent, meaning that, for every 80 cycles of IVF, only ten babies are born, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. In addition to this, there is a heightened chance of miscarriage for women in their late 30s and mid 40s, as well as higher chances of birth complications.
Facebook has, apparently, taken into consideration the potential backlash surrounding the idea that they are discouraging women from starting families at all by also offering four months of paid maternity leave, as well as $4,000 towards newborn expenses. This seems generous, but, by the time a woman has achieved her desired promotion, which, on average, is in her mid 40s, it may no longer be possible to enjoy such benefits. The fundamental problem of this is that rather than reforming a system that prioritises men, these companies are funding a medical procedure that simply allows women to behave like men. Whilst some women will be grateful to have this ‘perk’ as a gynaecological safety-net, most can see that this offer has given rise to delicate issues that are both social and biological.