As young women wrestle with when to go full-throttle with their careers and when to start a family, Facebook and Apple have introduced a new employee perk that might make it all easier. The tech giants will now cover egg-freezing for non-medical reasons—the first two major companies to do so. The benefit could be worth as much as $12,000 and allow female employees to postpone parenting so they can focus on their work.
Facebook offered the new perk as of January this year, and Apple’s benefit will go into effect at the beginning of 2015. The procedure can cost anywhere between $5,000-$12,000 for just one cycle, and storage can cost $500-$800 per year.
Tech companies taking on extending female employees’ fertility has sparked some concern though: is this is really the best way for a workplace to help women balance their careers and motherhood? The debate centers around whether the companies are giving women options as far as deciding when to get pregnant or, on the flip side, taking away the idea that they can have both a family and a career at the same time.
“While it’s too soon to hypothesize about the ultimate outcome of this decision, my initial response is that any funding for female reproductive options is a good thing,” says Alexia Vernon, a women’s empowerment speaker and coach. “With that said, my concern is that female employees will feel as though they are being encouraged to postpone starting a family until they are in a place in their career where they can off-ramp for a bit. And of course, the longer a female postpones and the higher on the ladder she is, the more difficult this may become. I hope to see companies that fund this expensive procedure also funding family planning counseling, on-site daycare, and family leave for men and women to show that they are truly on board with women’s right to a thriving career and family life.”
Whether egg freezing really is a reliable fertility safeguard remains to be seen. A recent BloombergBusinessweekcover story touted it as the future of women’s career advancement. “Imagine a world in which life isn’t dictated by a biological clock,” journalist Emma Rosenblum wrote. “If a 25-year-old banks her eggs and, at 35, is up for a huge promotion, she can go for it wholeheartedly without worrying about missing out on having a baby. She can also hold out for the man or woman of her dreams.”
Other experts say it’s wrong to see the procedure as fail safe. Success rates for conceiving a child with frozen eggs have improved over the years, but they’re roughly the same as those from IVF.
“If you freeze your eggs when you’re younger, when your eggs are better, you’re going to have a better chance of success later,” Sarah Elizabeth Richards, who spent $50,000 freezing several rounds of eggs in 2006 to 2008 and wrote a book about the experience, Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It, toldNPR. “And then it also depends on what doctor you use. There’s a lot of doctors with really - with a lot of experience, and then there are a lot of doctors that don’t have a lot of experience.”
As for whether other companies who can afford to will offer the same perks, Bonnie McDaniel, founder of the Washington, DC-based Women Are Talking Initiative, says that it will be more of a business decision than one about women’s lives, and that female executives should be leading a discussion about the pros and cons. “I think companies will follow suit depending on the reaction,” she says. “Companies are looking at No. 1 what their stockholders are going to think, and whether it’s politically correct. Women who are in positions of power need to be talking about this a lot. If this is adopted on a widespread scale, it could impact young women who are just entering the workforce in a negative way.”