Freeze your eggs and you’ll be promoted

My initial reaction was complete stupefaction, followed by a certain dismay, when I read on NBC News that Facebook and Apple are offering their female employees financial compensation if they have their eggs frozen. The decision was made on the basis that, added to their famous perks, this option could prevent these ambitious women from interrupting their careers at a crucial time and leave them "free to live the life they want".


The operation of freezing eggs costs around $10,000, plus $500 a year for storage, so, until now, it has only been an option available to the wealthiest women. Apple and Facebook are now offering women who take the plunge $20,000 as compensation for their commitment to the company. It is a scientific fact that fertility starts to decline at age 35, drops very quickly at 40 and is practically non-existent by 45. The fertility curve is therefore almost inversely proportional to the likelihood of getting promoted or progressing up the career ladder and it actually conflicts with the latter. By freezing their eggs, women are giving themselves the opportunity to put off getting pregnant until later, to devote themselves to their work, and to lessen the inequalities between men and women on the career development front.


Like many measures meant to promote equality between men and women, this makes no sense. It makes no sense because it is going about the problem the wrong way, trying to force women to fit into a corporate mould born from a patriarchal society, instead of recognising their differences. Behind a so-called opportunity granted to its female employees, the company is playing on the guilt women feel about the biological clock ticking, in order to off-load the heavy responsibility involved in reforming and adapting practices within the organisation.


It is going about the problem the wrong way because it encourages a society where stopping work for five months to have a baby has a detrimental effect on a woman’s entire career. It encourages a society in which women are obliged to yield to outside pressure and in which companies attach a monetary value to a woman’s eggs. It encourages a society in which the responsibility for inequality is cast on women, and makes them responsible for interrupting their careers, even though it is a fundamental problem that involves both men and women.


There are thousands of things to consider before resorting to such a move: teleworking, changes to maternity and paternity leave, flexible working hours, the right to training upon returning to work, concierge services, lowering the age for identifying high potential, and so on. But, these are measures that require the commitment of top and middle management. It takes boldness to tackle equality at a deep level, whereas it is so easy to offer women the money needed to resemble men as closely as possible.


This new measure is another attempt to get more of a handle on the unpredictability of life. It is another attempt to control the lottery of heredity, the very core of genetic mixing and the richness of our human heritage, which lie in the beauty of chance and the random nature of life. This news condemns, in fact, what gives life its unique and surprising flavour, just as much as these companies’ real desire to reform: it is ephemeral.


I will conclude with this quote from the NBCNews article, from a female Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University Medical Center, which left me perplexed: "Egg freezing is like car insurance: You hope you don’t have to use it, but if you find yourself in a situation where you need to, you’re glad to have the protection."


This article also appeared on the Huffington Post.


Photo from www.extremetech.com

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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