Attempt to delay childbirth and recruit a more diverse workforce is both encouraging and dystopian
By Carl Franzen
It sounds like a plot out of a Gattaca-like dystopian movie: giant corporations that pay for the women on their workforces to freeze their reproductive eggs, allowing them to spend more of their most fertile years at the office, delaying having children until later. Yet that's exactly what two of Silicon Valley's largest companies are doing in real life in an apparent bid to recruit more women talent, a laudable goal. Facebook and Apple will both cover the costs of egg-freezing procedures up to $20,000 for individual employees, according to NBC News. Facebook's employees were able to participate in the policy as of this year, while Apple's policy won't be available until early 2015, according to the report.
Egg freezing (technically called "oocyte cryopreservation") as an elective process is still a relatively new trend, first pioneered in humans in 1986. It is designed to allow a woman to attempt to have children past her most fertile years (20-35, according to Mayo Clinic). The process generally involves having a woman in her peak fertile years take hormones to produce more mature eggs than the one that would result naturally during her menstrual cycle, up to 45 eggs, according to the NYU Fertility Center. The mature eggs are then extracted or harvested in a procedure that takes 10 to 15 minutes under sedation, and the healthy eggs are then frozen in a fertility clinic and kept until a woman wants to have a child, up to 10 years, at which point they are unfrozen and fertilized with sperm, then re-implanted into a woman's uterus. The technology hasn't been very reliable and was until recently considered experimental. It is also expensive, costing around $10,000 per cycle or "round" of egg production, so the Facebook and Apple contributions could be extremely helpful for younger adult women who want this procedure.
Advocates of the technology have applauded Facebook's and Apple's support, and the overall effort to attract more women employees in the predominantly white male workforces of both companies is certainly commendable. But there are several concerns worth raising: one is that egg freezing is still not a very reliable way of getting pregnant, and thus still isn't recommended for "career women" by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Another is that it puts the onus on women to decide when to have kids, yet men's sperm quality also declines with age and sperm storage is far cheaper. It also would seem to encourage delaying childbirth and reinforce a workplace culture that isn't supportive of childrearing earlier in people's careers. Facebook and Apple, both of which already offer some childcare support, may find that their money is better spent investing in more flexible work/life options for their employees at all stages of life.