Tech corporations have perfected the science of the employee perk: a lavish amenity designed to keep workers in the office and fixated on the job. The recent announcement that Facebook and Apple will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs is perhaps the most fascinating example of what's behind America's unbalanced work-is-life mindset.
According to NBC News, these companies "appear to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons." It's both a predictable indicator of future burnout and a welcome sign of progress that tech companies are finally tailoring benefits to support female employees, rather than squandering money on frivolous and bro-y perks like, say, a mixed martial arts cage fighting ring.
The perk enforces Silicon Valley's obsessive work mentality and gender progress—so, in this case, women can have it all! Perhaps Facebook and Apple will even pressure other corporations to follow suit.
Unlike unlimited vacation days, which go unused to the point where Mastercard built an ad campaign around it, I imagine most working women would exercise this option in a heartbeat because of the huge financial and personal cost of continuing to hustle, crush it, and shut up in their careers while biologically constrained. This subsidizes the cost of choosing when to prioritize having children.
When successful, egg freezing allows women to put their fertility on ice, so to speak, until they're ready to become parents. But the procedure comes at a steep price: Costs typically add up to at least $10,000 for every round, plus $500 or more annually for storage.
With notoriously male-dominated Silicon Valley firms competing to attract top female talent, the coverage may give Apple and Facebook a leg up among the many women who devote key childbearing years to building careers. Covering egg freezing can be viewed as a type of "payback" for women's commitment, said Philip Chenette, a fertility specialist in San Francisco.
Ah, there's the word. Commitment. Author Kate Losse examined that concept in a review of Sheryl Sandberg's instruction manual for getting ahead:
The fact that Lean In is really waging a battle for work and against unmonetized life is the reason pregnancy, or the state of reproducing life, looms as the corporate Battle of Normandy in Lean In. Pregnancy, by virtue of the body's physical focus on human reproduction, is humanity's last, biological stand against the corporate demand for workers' continuous labor. For Sandberg, pregnancy must be converted into a corporate opportunity: a moment to convince a woman to commit further to her job. Human life as a competitor to work is the threat here, and it must be captured for corporate use, much in the way that Facebook treats users' personal activities as a series of opportunities to fill out the Facebook-owned social graph.
By arguing that women should express their feminism by remaining in the workplace at all costs, Sandberg encourages women to maintain a commitment to the workplace without encouraging the workplace to maintain a commitment to them.
These issues are not unique to Facebook or even Silicon Valley. Corporations accountable to shareholders do not act in ways that will ultimately hurt their financial interests. As NBC notes:
News of the firms' egg-freezing coverage comes in the midst of what's been described as a Silicon Valley "perks arms race." It's only the latest in a generous list of family and wellness-oriented health benefits from Apple and Facebook (whose COO, of course, is feminist change agent and "Lean In" author Sheryl Sandberg). Both companies offer benefits for fertility treatment and adoption. Facebook famously gives new parents $4,000 in so-called "baby cash" to use however they'd like.
It's too soon to tell whether female employees will feel pressured to freeze their eggs rather than take time out to have children, just like everyone feels pressured to always be on call to the office, always check email, always have a smartphone in hand. The choice is yours to decide whether or not to take those vacation days, except sometimes that choice feels like an illusion and this decision might be the hardest one working women have to make.
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