The news that Facebook and Apple were going to provide egg freezing to their female employees made headlines and gave women everywhere a reason why these companies are better employers than anyone else. But the controversy over whether this benefit is a good thing or not has taken up more space than it actually deserves to have. Feminists and others are arguing over whether this is a good message sent to women. Many seem to be coming down on the side that it is just one more sign of how employers do not accommodate women in the ways they need and discourage them from having a family in favor of focusing on career. But this storm in a bottle is nothing more than manufactured outrage because Facebook and Apple helping women with egg freezing is not a controversy.
Every job that people really want has perks and tech giants like Facebook and Apple have a lot of perks. Both companies already have benefits for employees who have families or want to start one. Maternity leave and fertility benefits already exist at these two juggernauts, along with many others. They also give “baby cash” to employees with babies which can be used for anything they want. From a certain point of view, offering assistance with egg freezing is just an expansion of benefits that already exist. The only problem is that they are the first companies to do so and that means everyone wants to argue about it.
One common objection is that the message Facebook and Apple are sending to women is a problem. One Forbes article phrased it this way: “Give us your healthiest years as an employee and we’ll help you take a shot at having a child later.” The Daily Beast was a bit more biting in its critique when it said, “It’s hard not to perceive the inclusion of egg freezing coverage as an attempt to squeeze more value out of women before they abandon the industry altogether.” Both criticisms have the same tilt to them, pointing out as they do they that many women wait to have children in order to work when they are young. They infer that both Facebook and Apple are putting their priorities as employers over the personal lives of the people who work for them and that is a bad thing.
Of course, any employer who does so is not very good. Stories of discrimination against women because they are pregnant or because they take time off to care for their children are prevalent enough to warrant this kind of worry, but it does not look like either company is really doing that. Egg freezing is just another benefit to a long list of benefits already offered to employees and catering to women specifically. Of course, any employer can improve what assistance it offers to women, but this is certainly a step in that direction. The fact is that most places do not help women who choose to freeze their eggs and this move by Facebook and Apple is a step towards offering women as many services as they can in order to expand on the choices available to them.
The problem with all the controversy about what message Facebook and Apple are sending with their egg freezing gambit is that it does not take into account what the real message of feminism is. Feminism is all about giving more choice to women, whether it be to work or have a family or have an abortion or a host of other choices that have created controversy in recent years. For those women who may have wanted to freeze their eggs but could not afford to, this is a perfect solution and feminists should be celebrating that. Even people who are not feminists but take issue with the news should be on board. The real message from Facebook and Apple is that they want to be the best employer they can for their female employees and this is one step they have chosen to take. Any other message is simply people trying to stir up headlines for themselves.
The real problem with the egg freezing policy would be if that was where the progress stopped. Obviously, some women want this kind of technology available to them. Other women may make different choices and it will be the responsibility of their employers to assist those women however they can, if they want them to stay working there. Employee benefits make companies competitive in a market where talent is at a premium. Thus, it would make sense both financially and ethically if Facebook and Apple added other perks like child care or whatever else their female employees may want. Only if they do not make any progress in that direction is there a problem.
More and more, employees of both sexes want more choice about the intersection of their work and family lives. Employers who provide the desired perks and benefits will attract more employees with the requisite skills. Thus, the quid pro quo relationship is sustained and everyone benefits. These two tech juggernauts are not trying to squeeze their female employees like oranges for juice. Instead they are offering more choice in order to make themselves more attractive to prospective employees. Employer assisted egg freezing should not be a controversy, but should be viewed as the step forward that it truly is.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury