I have been following with interest the recent media hype involving some high-profile companies, Apple and Microsoft, offering a frozen eggs service to their female employees. I suppose this possibly might be in the way that they might offer luncheon vouchers, concierge services or membership to a health club. Both companies hope that this move will help them attract and retain female talent, by reducing the pressure on them to have children before a particular age and stage in their careers.
I am all for family planning being openly discussed with both men and women equally. I am all for career strategy. I can indeed see there could be some advantages in the egg freezing perk but I am also aware of the process being fraught with potential difficulties.
Discussing oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) has been part of my congruent career couple coaching programme since 2012, together with the elective freezing of sperm, as a back-up fertility plan. I have always been a Plan B kind of girl. I.V.F. is an expensive process, with sums ranging from $12000 upwards being charged, so having a corporate health plan that includes this would be beneficial. I am told by friends who have been down this path, that the experience can be painful and emotionally difficult with a failure rate of around 70% reported.
Opponents will raise concerns about the unintended consequences of the scheme which would add even more pressure on female executives to delay motherhood until later on in their careers. The profile of the typical egg freezer has changed over recent years, showing a shift from single women not in relationships in their late 30s who want to protect their child-bearing possibilities, to younger women, who want an extended period of freedom. It is not always associated with career strategy and there is nothing wrong with this per se. Advocates will argue for women being given the opportunity to control their destinies both professional and personal. The ideal time to freeze eggs is when the egg quality is highest, which could be in late 20s. A strategy relying on this relatively untested medical technology carries additional unknown risks.
It takes two to tango. Eggs need sperm. So women will also need access to high sperm count semen, one would hope from the father of their future child, although I understand this is not necessarily a prerequisite. Many women are single some out of choice others not. But are the companies offering the same service to male employees where research shows that sperm count peaks between ages 30-35?
Terms and conditions
There will surely be terms and conditions associated with receiving this benefit. Will these organisations see an influx of younger women who may want to take advantage of the offer only to see them leave once their eggs are frozen. Will they have to repay the fees as they might professional training fees? Ironically, this could lead to increased churn in the female talent pipeline.
This nice corporate perk might help at the upstream end of career and family planning, but at some point the woman hopefully will become pregnant and will have a baby. Whether she is a single parent or within a couple, there is no guarantee that her days in a family unfriendly job are over. It is equally likely that she could land a job later in her career which requires travel and high time commitment, post baby. If she is a single mother these challenges will be significant.
Delaying parenthood is therefore not the total solution. These new practises are only going to work for both men and women if organisations stop seeing children as a corporate inconvenience. Children will get sick and need taking to dentists. There will be sports days and parent teacher conferences. Kids cannot be freeze framed and re-activated at will, although I’m sure many parents would welcome that initiative on occasion.
In economies with declining birth rates, aging populations and critical skill set shortages, egg freezing health benefits are a nice-to-have, but no substitute for over all conditions of service and corporate cultures that don’t penalize parents. Parental leave should no longer be seen as career suicide for men and flex and remote working should lose the label “mommy track.”
If these critical corporate cultural issues, as well as the other challenges associated with unconscious bias and gender imbalance are not addressed then