Families on Ice – A Step Forward or Backwards?

I have been paralyzed about writing this blog. Facebook and Apple recently launched a new employee perk aimed at their young women professionals, providing them with $20,000 in order to freeze their eggs. Created in response to continued evidence that women are not entering or staying in high tech roles in any meaningful volume compared to men, this program would allow female employees the ability to continue on a career path, while maintaining the possibility of conception for later.

Some hail this as the next best thing for women since birth control, empowering them to put childbirth and starting a family on ice (literally) as they dedicate themselves to work. Christy Jones, founder of Extend Fertility, a company that offers and promotes egg freezing across the country, said offering this benefit “can help women be more productive human beings.” Well, we sure want to be productive human beings, don’t we?

What assumptions underlie this kind of act? That having families interrupts career success (for women), gets in the way, and should be stalled for as long as possible?

I am downright pissed-off about this move on a number of levels. The implicit message I see is:

Talented young women: give us your 20’s and 30’s without distraction. In exchange, we will allow you to toil hard and advance with us. And in your 40’s, once you have ascended the corporate ranks to a senior level, when the money finally starts to come in, and the ability to influence key decisions and corporate culture, and materially affect business results are at last yours, we will support you in bringing those frozen eggs into play in case you want to walk away from economic success and contribution to finally start a family. Meanwhile, we plan to support your male colleagues in pursuing meaning, wealth, advancement, and reproduction/human connection simultaneously.

Freezing eggs so women can delay having a family is not the solution for our future world of work. Getting real about how we work, and how we live, is.

What I hear echoed around water coolers, in the coffee rooms, board rooms, and cubicles where our clients work day in and day out around the world is not that the intrusion of children is what slows women down, sidelines them, and causes them to leave good jobs. It is that there are mountains of complexities inherent in having and raising families within the narrow constraints and financial inequities that exist in their workplaces.

On average, women still earn only 82% of what their male counterparts earn. Family leave policies, poor child care options, lack of flex-time, return to work standards, double standards, and unspoken assumptions about “career” consistently get in the way. As a result, many (like me) leave big corporate jobs to start their own businesses and become employers in their own right. Men are now naming similar pain points and are claiming their desire for material involvement in parenting, to feel pride not shame when their female partner makes more money than them, and to more honestly bring their full selves to work.

Reproduction, parenting, and in fact, connection and belonging are essential elements of a social structure in which civilization expands, learns, evolves and takes care of itself and the world. This is not about working women’s “choice to have a family,” but rather about the reality that to be a civilized society, we must work, and conceive and parent and tend to the elderly, the community, and the home.

The freezing eggs benefit implies that:

  • Quality, complex work and the requisite earning power that comes with it cannot co-exist with reproduction, parenting and primary innate belonging for women but…
  • Men can and do pursue both work and reproduction, primary social connection and innate belonging without interruption

I can’t help but be an advocate for women’s reproductive rights and if companies want to fund this procedure as a benefit, I support it. But to me, the real solutions are paradoxically both more simple and more complex. To enact them requires courageous leadership, rethinking “workplace”, perseverance, partnership, and a commitment to a truly diverse workforce, a stronger society, and a vibrant global economy.

  1. Get real with what your company’s jobs require and either:
    • Change the roles so that they are doable and can co-exist with innate human reproduction and connection needs
    • Support real social structures that make it okay for men and women to both work hard and simultaneously reproduce/socially connect
  2. Offer real flex time solutions for everyone
  3. Recognize that brains do not leak out with breast milk, child-rearing is always temporary, and trust that women and men can both enter and exit your workplace adding value all the way along
  4. Advance talented female leaders to create pathways for the young female talent to see and then to believe that there is a place for them with you
  5. Notice your existing bias and use that insight to proactively name the kinds of relationships you want with the people who bring their talent your way, and commit to changing your culture accordingly
  6. Walk your talk with practices and policies that apply to men and women equally

We have to get over the antiquated industrial age mentality that suggests that women and great, hard work can’t co-exist because children “interfere.” My own life is a testament to the messy, dynamic, sometimes difficult challenges of raising amazing children while also being a full contributor at work and to the economy. My best years have been just that—the best years, just like the men around me.

References/ Additional Context:

 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, developed in the 1940’s, remains widely used as a descriptor of essential human pursuits, although recent researchers have updated the model somewhat.

A team of Pyschologists from Arizona State in 2010 proposed that “At the top of the new (Maslow’s) pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked – mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.” http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/08/23/updated-maslows-pyramid-of-needs/17144.html

Pamela Rutledge in What Maslow Missed, says “The system of human needs from bottom to top, shelter, safety, sex, leadership, community, competence and trust, are dependent on our ability to connect with others. Belonging to a community provides the sense of security and agency that makes our brains happy and helps keep us safe.”

Jim Morris