As Silicon Valley scrambles to become more female-friendly, some companies are turning to cryopreservation as a retention strategy.
Industry giants Apple and Facebook are reportedly offering to cover the cost of elective egg freezing for female employees, the latest in a line of generous maternity benefits that seek to help the tech industry overcome its trouble retaining top female talent.
But will it work?
The news generated a horde of headlines, which is unsurprising because A.) $20,000 for frozen eggs is an eye-catching work perk even by Facebook’s standards and B.) Last week’s tech industry trend pieces were less flattering from a female-friendliness perspective.
Already Silicon Valley’s key players offer generous family benefits, including paid maternity leave and paternity leave, child care assistance and even onsite medical. And yet women, who make up about half of the total U.S. labor force, hold only about a quarter of jobs in engineering- and computer-related fields.
While the perk might seem like just another weapon in what’s been called the perks arms race of Silicon Valley, it could also resonate in particular with millennial employees who are getting married and having children later than ever before. And of course, it could have an outsized effect on the trajectory of women’s careers.
The idea, it seems, is that freezing eggs gives career-driven women the option of putting off parenthood until they’re more established in their careers. But does that get to the root of the problem?
Writing for Fortune earlier this month, Textio CEO Keiran Snyder described her survey of 716 women who have left tech, 484 of whom cited motherhood as a factor in their decision to leave.
Many women said that it wasn’t motherhood alone that did in their careers. Rather, it was the lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare. As Rebecca, a former motion graphics designer put it, "Motherhood was just the amplifier. It made all the problems that I’d been putting up with forever actually intolerable."
It’s true that many of the situations Snyder describes are tales of negotiating for unpaid leave at companies too small to be covered under FMLA, and do not reflect the more progressive, family-friendly benefits programs offered by leading tech industry employers like Google, Yahoo, Facebook or Reddit.
But Snyder’s stories do echo wider concerns around Silicon Valley. The knock on the tech industry is that it’s a hyper-competitive boys club with a culture that’s incompatible with parenthood – or, more specifically, with motherhood.
Skeptics have been quick point out that the option for female employees to freeze their eggs exacerbates this issue rather than alleviating it.
“Facebook and Apple Offer Egg-Freezing Perk So Women Never Stop Working,” reads the headline at ValleyWag, which casts this as yet another perk designed to “keep workers in the office and fixated on the job.” And the Families and Work Institute expressed similar, if more tempered, concern, arguing that freezing eggs or sperm hardly a fix for work-life fit.
“It’s a unique perk, but it does little to help change the 1950s work model so many working mothers struggle with today. And it totally disregards the role that working dads increasingly want to play in the raising of their children, as our research at the Institute has pointed out for some time now.”
Speaking with the Washington Post, Anne Weisberg, FWI’s senior vice president/strategy, explained the risk companies run if they’re offering female employees the option of freezing their eggs without also providing support systems for the women in their work force who aren’t looking to delay parenthood.
The move could be a high risk if the coverage is offered somewhere that doesn't offer other family-friendly benefits. Or, it could send the wrong signal in a culture that already only rewards people who commit to putting work above all else, says Anne Weisberg, a senior vice president at the Families and Work Institute. "If those are the signals, people will read a policy like this not as 'we want to give people more options,' but as 'this is what we expect.'"
Even if it turns out that freezing eggs isn’t the answer to Silicon Valley’s troubles when it comes to retention of top female talent, there are many steps companies can take to address motherhood without providing the option of pushing it off.
A few examples:
Google, Cisco and Yahoo offer months of paid maternity leave to new moms
CA Technologies lets new moms transition back to work by working reduced hours during their first few weeks back at work
Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers have new parent mentoring programs
Vistaprint and Citi provide backup emergency care options for parent employees.
>> Read more about Ways Companies are Helping New Moms
So what do you think? Will the option of freezing eggs make the tech industry more attractive to female talent? If not, what would you recommend as programs to support working mothers, or new parents in general?