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Debate Simmers Over Facebook, Apple Egg-Freezing Benefit

Facebook and Apple, companies already known for their generous employee benefits, are raising the bar even more by paying for egg-freezing services for their female employees. Facebook began covering up to US$20,000 in these expenses at the start of the year, and Apple will beginning covering them at the start of next, NBC News reported this week.

At first blush, it seems to be the type of benefit typical of high-tech firms, fitting right in with concierge services, in-office massages and special employee buses. However, this particular benefit also raises a host of uncomfortable issues for women in the workforce, in particular women in the high-tech sector.

A Delicate Balance

For starters, why is it still so difficult for women to balance a fulfilling career and motherhood? Are Facebook and Apple and the legions of companies that inevitably will follow suit admitting that women can’t have a balanced work-home life — at least not those employed by their companies?

Whether warranted or not, tech firms have gotten the reputation of having environments that are less-than-welcoming to women. Might this new benefit merely be Facebook’s and Apple’s way of trying to woo more talented female candidates?

It could be argued that in the end, technology does not trump biology. It is easy to see that some women might be lulled into complacency with the thought of their eggs on hold and wind up waiting too long for parenthood.

Then again, it would not be difficult to find an ambitious, hardworking woman in her late 20s or early 30s who loves her job and career path and would like the option to safely put off motherhood for a few years — but can not afford the egg-freezing technology that would make it possible.

A Medical Trump Card

Indeed, of all the messy societal problems raised by egg-freezing technology, the cost appears to be the easiest one to solve.

“Egg freezing will be an option for some, but obviously not all women,” said Michael Alper, M.D., medical director and president of Boston IVF.

“The problem faced by women today is that the technology is expensive, and if not covered by the employer, many women just won’t be able to exercise this reproductive choice,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“I commend companies who fund reproductive treatments and who understand that fulfilling an employee’s future dream and obviating the potential for regret down the road make great sense,” Alper added.

Will Pregnant Women Face Discrimination?

The introduction of egg freezing as a paid benefit could have a negative impact on a company’s workforce, cautioned Sophia Lau of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae.

“By having this option, female employees may be pressured to use this benefit to delay childbearing so that they can advance their careers,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“It also suggests that women who choose to get pregnant and start a family earlier are hurting their careers,” Lau pointed out.

It very well could be that companies see this benefit as a way to “level the playing field” between male and female employees, she said — but it should only be one part of a company’s long-term plan to keep female employees in the workforce.

“Companies who offer this benefit also should consider increasing or improving benefits for female, as well as male, employees after the baby is born,” Lau advised, “including paid leave, childcare on the premises, and flexibility in work schedules.”

Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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