Apple and Facebook’s egg-freezing move gets industry thumbs down: Abi Ellis, Kat Gordon, Mary Keane-Dawson, Emma Sexton, Jen Smith

By Angela Haggerty | Reporter




October 17, 2014 | 8 min read

Following the news that Apple and Facebook are to offer female employees financial assistance to freeze their eggs in a bid to encourage women onto their staff, The Drum spoke to some of the UK industry’s leading women to find out whether the move is progressive or if it sends out the wrong signal about balancing a work and family life.

Abi Ellis, group creative director at DigitasLBi

This is, surely, the premise for Margaret Attwood's next novel? It's not, like, a TRUE STORY? It's absurd. And just a little bit sexist. How about offering lunch time vasectomies (with a voucher you can redeem later, when you want the procedure reversed)?

My breeding bits n bobs have nothing to do with my employers. Though I don't want to have children, I don't like the message this egg-freezing 'perk' sends to women who do. Far from investing in women and helping them carve out their careers, what's really being said is: having children means you are valued less in the workforce, and you will struggle to have a successful career with us.

If some of the most forward-thinking companies on the planet think egg-freezing is a genius recruitment tool to attract more women into technology, then I might as well just get back to the washing up.

Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference

Would I have considered egg freezing had my company offered it? Doubtful. I became a mother when the timing felt aligned with the goals and readiness of my husband and I, and had little to do with my career trajectory at the time.

When I think about it as a company benefit, I can't evaluate it in a vacuum. I want to know how the company supports parenthood more completely. Do they offer maternity leave? Paternity leave? Adoption leave? Do they have a lactation room? How successful are they in retaining women through pregnancy and birth? Does their C-suite include women who are mothers?

If they don’t show support for parenthood among employees, then the egg freezing benefit sounds self-serving. It reminds me a bit of how many tech companies have on-site restaurants, gyms, dry-cleaning services, etc. At first you think: “Wow – free food!” and only slowly does it dawn on you that you traded your personal life for a $5 sandwich and soda. Only now you’re postponing parenthood to work even harder for your company, with an uncertain “guarantee” that your eggs will be waiting when you can finally get off the treadmill.

Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO of myHealthPal and founder of How She Made It

I have two sons and I made the decision to have both my children when I wanted to have them. Not when it was convenient for my employer for me to have them. In fact, I can say with complete certainty that my employers did not want me to have children when I did have them. The MD/CEO being pregnant in the Boardroom certainly raised some unconstructive male comments as I recall. However, it was my decision and I am lucky enough to understand that no one controls that part of my life, and nor should they.

For me, I believe passionately that the choice to have or to not have children is a woman's choice. No company should be applying pressure (however well meant) to any woman to delay starting a family, by 'taking care of her eggs'! There should be a separation between our personal identity, decisions and choices, and that of our role as a female/male business employee, founder/partner and/or leader.

Emma Sexton, director of She Says and founder of Make Your Words Work

If you want to delay having children because you have not met the right partner yet then someone offering to pay for your eggs to be frozen is a brilliant bonus. But the fact that a business is offering it implies to me that they are less concerned about your personal relationships and more concerned about you being able to make an ‘easier’ choice over your career or becoming a parent.

And this is a question I constantly see women who want children having to weigh up. Over and over again I hear the question ‘when is the right time for me to have a child?’ because they know full well that they will be pushed aside when they return to work and might never get their careers back on track. If this was offered to me I would be asking that ‘generous’ business if they would consider using that money for trialling new ways of working instead.

Redesigning their business so that all of their employees (women AND men) do not have to sacrifice their lives, wellbeing and parenthood for their careers. It is about time we did a total rethink on how we operate in the world of work because it doesn’t ‘work’ and currently women are suffering the most. On an email thread today someone posted “there's never a good time in your career to have a kid and a lengthy career break.” Well, maybe there should be, and that time should be anytime.

I remember considering this in my late 20s after a friend of mine was being mentored by an older woman who suggested that my friend should seriously do this. I considered it, as at the time I was convinced I didn’t want children but everyone told me I would change my mind. I thought about it as an insurance policy in case I was ever overcome with broodiness one morning but had left it too late. But the procedure is pretty awful – it is not as easy as it sounds.

It is a very good PR and marketing campaign - probably with the aim of attracting more women to these businesses. If a tech/digital business needs the PR so badly then go for it. But if they want great women working for them, and to stay working for them, then they should put their efforts into redesigning their businesses instead.

Jen Smith, head of planning at Maxus

My first reaction to this news was horror. Considering all the problems women experience in the tech industry (trolling, sexism, massive imbalance in policy and pay, for starters) this feels like an expensive cherry on top of a poorly baked cake. My second reaction was sadness for my daughters and their future careers.

I do think the intention is good; by all accounts both these companies have great 'family' policies in place. Tech is a hugely male dominated industry, so any initiative that supports women is a positive. Comments on the fantastic Ada’s List even refer to the idea as 'incredibly progressive'.

However, I’m still not convinced. Firstly, making a family (generally) involves more than one decision maker. Is the same offer being extended to the partners of male colleagues within these firms? Then, egg freezing is extreme science - it has only just moved out of 'experimental' medicine status and is a painful procedure with uncertain results.

Thirdly, for best results you need to remove eggs fairly early on - in fact, every year counts. When I was 27, starting a family wasn’t even on my radar. Might this inadvertently imply that there is a 'mythical' right time to have a baby and that the right time, the subtext goes, isn’t now?

I want to give these companies the benefit of the doubt – I really do. Unfortunately, until this is part of a standardised company culture with an equal approach to female and male employees, then it remains merely a sticking plaster over a worrying symptom.

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