Facebook, Apple now paying for female employees to freeze their eggs cryonically
Facebook and Apple have become two of the first major companies to offer an interesting perk for female employees: Egg freezing. Since January this year, women at Facebook have had the option of having their eggs harvested and frozen, for future in-vitro fertilization (IVF) — and from January 2015, women at Apple will be granted the same benefit. Is this just the next phase in the Silicon Valley “perks arms race,” or, from a more cynical perspective, is it just a way to keep female employees focused on the prize? In any case, if egg freezing takes off in a big way, then we are probably looking at one of the greatest boosts for equality in the workplace: Instead of jettisoning their careers in favor of babymaking, women will be more inclined to stick it out. Hopefully, this will mean larger numbers of women in high-power positions, both in the corporate world and elsewhere.
Egg freezing — or oocyte cryopreservation to give its medical name — is a procedure that allows a woman to put aside some of her limited supply of eggs. The process generally involves hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, and then harvesting and cryonic freezing of those eggs. Like cryopreserved sperm, the eggs can be kept for a long time. Eventually, if the woman decides to use her eggs to get pregnant, they are fertilized in a test tube and implanted into the womb (IVF). The process isn’t cheap (around $10,000 for a single batch of hormones and harvesting), and keeping the eggs frozen costs a few hundred dollars per year. So far, from the limited amount of research carried out on frozen eggs and the resultant babies, there doesn’t appear to be an increase in birth defects or other chromosomal abnormalities.
If you’ve ever wondered what frozen eggs look like, now you know. Cryopreserved oocytes do not look like this. [Image credit]
And now, Facebook and Apple will provide up to $20,000 for their employees to freeze their eggs. Both companies are offering this perk on non-medical grounds — as in, every person with eggs will be eligible; you don’t need to have cancer or be on the edge of menopause to use the perk.
Most people will view this as a massive win for women. As NBC reports, women feel “empowered” when they freeze their eggs. At the very least, egg freezing — like birth control — simply gives women more choice. If you want to go and have babies, that’s fine; but if you want to carry on with your career and use your frozen eggs later, that’s fine too. It’s important to remember that women have a biological clock that aligns almost perfectly with the career ladder: The prime time for having babies is likely to coincide with the crux of a career, and women nearly always have to choose one or the other. All that changes, if egg freezing becomes commonplace.
Egg freezing is kind of like this... but not quite
Egg freezing is kind of like this… but not quite
The more cynical point of view, of course, is that employers could use egg freezing as a tidy way of enticing women to sell their souls to the corporate overlord. From the company’s point of view, losing women during their childbearing years can be a big drain on both money (paid leave and other benefits) and personnel (losing trained employees is rarely a good thing).
Overall, despite any critical/cynical interpretations that will surely be spun by critics of egg freezing, I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone concerned. Employers get to retain staff, and women get more choice. It’s pretty awesome that cryonic freezing — a fairly simple technology — might be the single greatest boost for gender equality in the workplace that the world has ever seen. If more women opt to spend their 20s and 30s climbing the career ladder rather than having babies, we’ll begin to see a lot more women in high-power/C-level jobs… and from there, they’ll undoubtedly spread to top-level positions at institutions and in politics.