Apple & Facebook's "game changer"

Facebook and Apple have apparently decided to cover egg freezing for female employees. I have some thoughts about this....but first, a small note about my recent absence: I'm currently on vacation back home in North Carolina after finishing up my last couple of weeks of work at Law360. Next Monday, I'll be starting a new job! It's an exciting change, and the transition process has had me pretty busy lately. Thankfully I have a week to relax in between, and I'm trying to really do just that, but I couldn't stay away from this space for long!

OK, down to business. I usually save topics like this for "Feminist Friday," but every day this week is a basically Friday for me so when I came across this story I thought, why not? From NBC:

Facebook recently began covering egg freezing, and Apple will start in January, spokespeople for the companies told NBC News. The firms appear to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons.

“Having a high-powered career and children is still a very hard thing to do,” said Brigitte Adams, an egg-freezing advocate and founder of the patient forum By offering this benefit, companies are investing in women, she said, and supporting them in carving out the lives they want.

In a vacuum, this policy seems like it could only be a good thing. If women want or need to freeze their eggs so that they can get pregnant at a later date, it's great that huge companies like Facebook and Apple want to cover those procedures.

But is this really a "game-changing" perk, as NBC says? And if it is, what does that say about the state of things for women in the corporate and tech world? What does it mean when Facebook and Apple will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help women freeze their eggs so that they can put off pregnancy in favor of their careers?

With notoriously male-dominated Silicon Valley firms competing to attract top female talent, the coverage may give Apple and Facebook a leg up among the many women who devote key childbearing years to building careers. Covering egg freezing can be viewed as a type of “payback” for women’s commitment, said Philip Chenette, a fertility specialist in San Francisco.

This is probably great news for some women, but is painting it as the way to "attract top female talent" really the statement tech wants to be making? Doesn't it suggest that career and child-rearing are mutually exclusive, and that the reason women don't enter the field in the first place, or leave, is because they want to have children? Studies have shown that's just not true in many cases. More women seem to leave because of the hostile culture of the corporate world, and when they do cite children as the reason, it's often because of the stubborn patriarchal ideal that the mother should take on the majority of the childcare responsibilities.

Offering to cover the cost of freezing eggs is great, and I'm definitely not suggesting Facebook and Apple reverse course on this. But making such a commitment to what is a relatively uncommon and invasive procedure and suggesting that it's some kind of solution or salve for the huge "woman problem" in the industry just feels wrong.

What might be better? I have a few ideas:

  • Better maternity and paternity leave policies and flexible work schedules
  • A campaign to combat the idea that pregnancy and motherhood somehow render women less capable of doing their jobs
  • A dedicated effort to addressing the sexism and harassment that is far too common in the tech industry
  • An honest, empathetic statement of acknowledgment of the other reasons women may leave the industry and a concerted effort aimed at fixing those problems

I'm happy for the women in tech who really want to freeze their eggs and now will have the support of their employers. But is this a "game-changer" for anyone else? I'd argue no.