It was surprising, for me at least, to read that Facebook and Apple’s groundbreaking offer to cover the staggering costs of elective egg freezing for female employees was in fact a sexist and oppressive move by big bad capitalism.
But that’s what several feminist critics argued after the two companies announced policies paying for the procedure that allows women to preserve healthy eggs until they’re ready to have children.
Apple will implement the policy next year as part of the company’s fertility benefits, while Facebook has been offering female employees its “lifetime surrogacy reimbursement” program since the start of this year.
Both companies acknowledged their programs publicly for the first time this week, and both will cover up to $20,000 of the procedure, which has become increasingly popular in the two years since the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed its “experimental” label.
But it’s a major investment: a single round of egg freezing can cost between $7,000 and $12,000, in addition to thousands more for egg storage and drug fees. And doctors recommend at least two rounds, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll result in a successful pregnancy when implanted via in vitro fertilization.
It sounds, surely, like an exceptionally female-friendly employment perk, and one that will expand women’s reproductive choices and professional opportunities. Historically, these choices and opportunities have been curtailed by the linear nature of career progression, which childbirth and child-rearing interrupts.
But skeptics say the benefits program—the first of its kind among major companies—could cause female employees to feel pressure to delay motherhood. “By telling their female staff to hold off on having babies, these companies are demanding their employees put them before everything else, before their families, before their health,” wrote one critic in The Guardian. “This isn’t a benefit created to make life better for working women, it’s a threat.”
And in The Daily Beast, Samantha Allen argued that, “given the tech industry’s problem with the retention of female employees,” the program seems like “an attempt to squeeze more value out of women before they abandon the industry altogether.”
So a workplace policy expanding reproductive rights is transformed into a sinister ploy to deter women from having children at all, remaining slaves in Silicon Valley.
The scheme’s critics are narrowly reporting what that $20,000 in “fertility benefits” actually covers.
According to the Associated Press, Apple and Facebook “will now give up to $20,000 in benefits to help employees pay for infertility treatments, sperm donors and even to freeze their eggs.”
So, rather than indenturing their female employees into permanent servitude, Apple and Facebook are providing a range of fertility options to woman, two of which help facilitate pregnancy. The implementation of an egg freezing payment plan does not, should not, preclude the provision of better workplace perks for women who already have children.
The egg freezing payment program is part of a larger effort in Silicon Valley to attract more female workers to the male-dominated tech industry with employee perks, like Facebook’s $4,000 in “baby cash” and Apple’s coverage of up to $15,000 of fertility treatments.
It’s also a practical move on the part of tech companies who want to grow the size of their female workforce, knowing that they lose most women around the time they have children.
And if the policy was being implemented in a female-dominated industry, wouldn’t we be celebrating it as a feminist achievement that affords women greater autonomy over their reproductive rights?
In reality, paying to freeze their eggs gives women who want to focus on their careers the option to do so—a luxury for sure, but a sensitive and pragmatic one that increases options for both women and their employers. As such it is a welcome, fundamentally feminist innovation.