News that Apple would begin in January to pay for women employees to have their eggs frozen so they could delay motherhood — and that Facebook had already begun doing it — has jumpstarted the discussion of women and work/life balance.
It looks like we can have it all, if we are willing to keep some of it in the freezer — like the ingredients for soup that are there until we finally have time to make it.
Citigroup, Microsoft and Google either offer this benefit or are thinking about it. And there are law firms and investment banks that do, too.
But Apple and Facebook grabbed the headlines because these employers are famous for their perks — in-house dry-cleaning, haircuts and massage, free food and Ping-Pong — and this looked like another round in that arms race.
They are also famous for insanely long work weeks, and now the women will be available to sleep under their desks, too. Plus, egg-freezing could be a retention tool for companies that have few women employees and fewer women leaders, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg notwithstanding.
Egg-freezing was developed for young women cancer patients whose fertility would be destroyed by chemotherapy. But a couple of years ago, it got the blessing of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which lifted its "experimental" warning.
There is no guarantee that women will be able to take a baby out of the freezer when they are ready for motherhood. The success rate of in vitro fertilization with thawed eggs is improving, but it isn't great. And it works better with eggs harvested when women are young — in their early 20s — than with eggs harvested after 30.
How likely is it that your average 22-year-old college grad is going to be working for a company where this is a perk? Or is in a senior position where it is available? Not very. That's probably what prompted Joanna Coles, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, to tell Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning that it might be the ideal college graduation gift for an ambitious daughter.
"Here, honey. Congratulations on graduating from Yale with honors. Let us pay that $20,000 to freeze your eggs so you can attack your career and ignore that dancing baby you keep seeing in the executive washroom mirror."
The companies are playing this off as the logical extension of their already generous family policies — baby cash for newborn expenses, generous paid maternity leave, support for in vitro fertilization and adoption.
That this isn't an example of workplace tyranny, but an attempt to level the playing field for women, since the fertility of their male co-workers appears to extend indefinitely. That this is a chance to close the wage gap because women who leave the workforce to have children — even briefly — don't ever catch up.
What fascinated me was the women, almost all of whom spoke anonymously, who said this had less to do with their work life than their dating life — you no longer have to evaluate every guy as a potential baby daddy if you aren't on deadline to get pregnant.
One commentator wondered aloud if we really wanted to support a society that requires us to work so hard that we have no time to have children. I would argue that we are already that society. This just makes it easier for women to navigate it.
Without universal paid maternity leave, affordable quality day care and flexible hours, American women and their families already are at an almost insurmountable disadvantage compared to American men as well as families in the 20 other industrialized countries.
Until egg-freezing is there for more women — and can we get universal paid sick leave first, please — this is really just an outlier. It almost seems silly.
And what unspoken judgments will be made about the woman in the office who doesn't freeze her eggs? Who does something crazy at 30, like have a baby?
Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at email@example.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.
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