Facebook and Apple are offering a new and controversial job perk—they will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs.
As women age, our chances of conceiving a child declines. Freezing your eggs is viewed as a viable option—a kind of insurance policy—for women who choose to have babies later in life. Women over the age of 35 have only a 50 percent chance of conceiving naturally, and only a 1.7 percent chance after the age of 43.
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The procedure is expensive, costing approximately $10,000 (US) per round—not including a $500 annual fee for storage. Doctors believe that younger eggs are more viable so they recommend freezing them in your 20s or early 30s. Women require hormone injections for two weeks in advance, as well as an out-patient procedure to harvest the eggs.
But this story isn’t really about the science. It's about the message that these male-dominated tech companies are sending. Does offering this perk tell young women that they are part of a company that cares about them? It could possibly be seen as a worthy payback for women who have devoted their prime childbearing years to their careers. But does it also suggest to women that they are expected to give up any hope of a family until they are over the age of 40?
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If Silicon Valley really wanted to be family-friendly they could extend their maternity benefits beyond a meagre four months (which is, sadly, considered very generous in the US). Facebook also gives a $4,000 “baby cash” bonus to new parents at the company—but still only gives them 17 weeks paid leave. They could offer better daycare options so that balancing work and family wasn’t so difficult for new parents. If the workplace doesn’t have a family-friendly atmosphere, how will women even have a chance to hit the defrost button on their frozen cache?
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At this point, no Canadian companies have followed suit. In Canada, the procedure is costly at $4,800, plus additional fees for yearly storage. Usually, egg freezing is a pre-emptive measure for health reasons—like a young woman undergoing cancer treatment.
In the US, companies are springing up to encourage women to bank their eggs. Most famously, EggBanxx—with the slogan “smart women freeze”—even hosts in-home parties that explain the procedure in a non-threatening manner. They claim that women are empowered by the decision to freeze their eggs.
As the procedure becomes more refined, more women may look to egg freezing as a way to improve their chances of becoming mothers one day, even if the timing isn’t during their most fertile years. We will have to wait and see if other companies, and their female employees, feel that coverage for egg freezing is a perk that pays off in the long run—or if it's just a ploy to keep them working longer.
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