If I'm being perfectly honest, I never thought much about having kids. I was always in search of the next great adventure: the next great job, the next great city, and, since I'm being perfectly honest, the next "great" guy who wasn't a moron.
Still, like many women of a certain age, I didn't picture myself coupled and childless (and for the record, neither did my mom). I always figured I'd meet Prince Charming--and eventually we'd have a charming little family. Instead, I'm 32 and sharing a studio apartment with Prince Charming, and neither one of us has the time--or means--to entertain the idea of kids, at least not now.
I was intrigued when news surfaced that, in January, Apple will start footing some of the bill for female employees to freeze their eggs, and that Facebook has already begun doing this. Apple covers costs under its fertility benefit, while Facebook does so under its surrogacy benefit, both up to $20,000. The procedure is costly and can add at least $10,000 for every round, plus $500 or more annually for storage. Doctors recommend freezing at least 20 eggs, and the younger you are when you do it, the healthier those eggs will be.
For women engineers and other highly prized tech talent, such a benefit could be a game-changer. "It's basically the next level of how birth control equalized dating (or made it closer)," says a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. "It makes the consequences that men and women face for life decisions more similar."
Given how many women find their careers dictated by a biological clock, I can't argue with that. And who says such "insurance" shouldn't be a routine part of women's health care, like their yearly physical or breast cancer exam?
What rubs me the wrong way, however, is what the benefit seems to say about the companies' cultures. Think about the other, more standard benefits that companies offer, such as tuition reimbursement, stock options, and gym memberships. My guess is that businesses offer these perks because they want employees to sharpen their skills, invest in their future, and keep stress at bay. Essentially, companies are saying, "These perks are good for you." But, of course, those perks pay off for businesses too--what company wouldn't want healthier, better educated, and more financially stable employees? In this way, benefits help communicate a company's culture.
In the case of Facebook and Apple--two innovators known for driving employees hard--what does encouraging women to freeze their eggs say about their culture? Since I'm being perfectly honest, I read the benefit as, "We're going to help you postpone having kids so that you can work even harder for us!" Not exactly a very attractive message.
Here's the other thing: If young, high-achieving women are too busy right now to have children, won't they be even busier--and more invested--in their careers later on when they're supposed to use those subsidized frozen eggs? For women who want to have children, this benefit--while financially generous--essentially kicks the can down the road a few years without actually addressing a major challenge: the juggling act of working and raising a family (which, by the way, is not just a women's issue). Why not consider baking flextime--or whatever kind of arrangement works best--into a parent's career trajectory? Or since this discussion is about kids, why not contribute to the cost of on-site day care? Heaven knows working parents could use it. Facebook offers doggy day care, but children of employees don't yet have that benefit. Apple doesn't offer it either.
Going back to the idea of egg freezing, I think it's fair to assume neither Facebook nor Apple will have a clue which employees are using the benefit, which is just as well given how personal the decision is. According to my friend, egg freezing requires only one day off work, so it's not like it derails productivity.
But let's say both companies restrict who is eligible to receive such a benefit. Do you have to be a certain age or not have had any previous children? Or can any 22-year-old college graduate do this now? "If it's just straight health insurance, which I would bet it is," says Suzanne Lucas, an Inc.com columnist and human resources expert, "then this is just a policy, and they're not going to have a say over whether it's Jane, who's happily married, or Stacey, who's a lesbian."
Regardless, no company wants to "have a culture where it's not okay to have a baby," Lucas says. "You don't want to send that message, and one of the main reasons you don't want to send that message is purely [biological]." There's no guarantee the an egg freezing procedure will extend a woman's fertility, and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine advises against relying on it, citing, among other things, the "potential emotional risks" and "false hopes" it can create. "You don't want to have the culture of 'not now,'" says Lucas, "because that will end up with women worse off than before." In other words, for some women, "not now" may become "not ever."
It may be a financially generous benefit, but it's also one that involves plenty of risk--for both the employees and the employer.