Apple and eggs

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What do women want in the workplace? Two of the biggest players in technology — Apple and Facebook —  think that they know.  Each company will offer their female employees an unusual and expensive perk: the option to freeze their eggs to use later in life.

Apple explained: “We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cryopreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatments … We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.”

According to NBC news, Facebook has been offering a similar benefit to its female employees.

Cryopreservation and egg storage has rarely been offered as an employee benefit due to its cost: a single cycle can cost ten and fifteen thousand dollars, making it a medical option reserved for those with the financial ability to do so.

At first glance, the benefit appears to be a real step forward for empowering women in the workplace. The generosity ostensibly allows women to fully immerse themselves in their careers without hearing their biological clock ticking in their ear. Preserving their eggs until a later time allows women to choose to postpone having families until their careers are firmly established.

Yet, the egg freezing benefit has received resounding criticism because of the perceived underlying message: that the heavily male-centric tech world is telling women that career advancement and family life cannot successfully coexist. Or worse, that the companies wish to squeeze every last ounce of work out of the few women in the high tech industry before they abandon it for family friendly pastures.

But the criticism ignores that it is reportedly the women who work in this industry — the ones who actually will face the delicate tightrope balance of work success, fertility timing, and family choices in their life — are the ones who sought out this benefit.

It also ignores the fact that giving a woman more control over her body, a mainstay of feminist thinking, is the essence of reproductive freedom.

Successful careers — for both men and women — have always involved hard choices: choosing to work harder, stay later, to miss a family event, to take on an extra project, to make yourself available 24/7, to become irreplaceable, or, sometimes, to postpone having children.

Given employers’ perceived requirements for success, perhaps fixing current workplace expectations and structures is the real solution to office versus family tensions. Creating workplaces that have more flexibility, that value results more than hours logged in the office, and that don’t penalize people for having children while trying to build a career would make benefits like egg preservation unnecessary. Companies should offer family friendly benefits like maternity/paternity leave, childcare coverage or credits, work hours that coordinate better with the school day, and an option to come off the fast track temporarily while in the throes of time intensive parenting with the option to get back on board without penalty when the time is right.

But until this utopian workplace exists, any benefits that allow women to have more options to create work and personal success should be embraced. Apple and Facebook have long been hailed as technology innovators; if they continue exploring and offering more benefits that change women’s employment opportunities, they could become innovators in how America works.