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James Hayton

Warwick Business School

Professor of HRM

Read more about James Hayton

Are we forcing women to delay childbirth?

Cathy Yeulet_Hemera_thinkstock

Women make up 57% of the US workforce in professional and related occupations, but only 26% of professionals in the computer and information field. Male domination in the education fields of engineering and computer science, coupled with a masculine business culture has compounded the challenge: tech firms wish to do a better job of appealing to the women who make up more than half of the workforce.  Apple said in its diversity report this year that its workforce was 70% male, while Facebook reported its workforce was 69% male.

So it is not surprising that the most innovative firms in the world are seeking ways that will directly help them attract talented women, with Facebook and Apple offering their female staff egg freezing for later fertility treatment.

'Crosses the line'

Balancing a career and building a family is a tremendously difficult issue for women and though some may feel offering an egg freezing service for female staff crosses the line into paternalism, Facebook and Apple are acknowledging one of the fundamental issues that sees women fall out of the workplace.

Whether many women actually take up this offer is another issue and some might see it as an implicit pressure to delay children. But ultimately it will be the woman’s choice and it signals to talented female graduates looking at the technology sector that these most innovative and exciting firms are desperate for them to join them.

Tech firms are very reliant on staff knowledge

The technology sector is the most inventive and fast-paced industry to be in and firms in this sector like Google, Apple and Facebook are reliant on the knowledge of their staff.

The more brainpower they have at their disposal the more likely they will be able to produce new products and outsmart their rivals. Thus the race for talent is almost as competitive as the race for the latest microchips.

A substitute for broader pay equity?

Critics might note that while perks such as this are very impressive and eye-catching, broader pay equity might be an even stronger signal of the importance of women in the workforce.

New research by American Association of University Women shows that the gender gap in pay exists among women without children and that it grows with age. This means that women typically earn about 90% of what men are paid until they are about 35 years old and after that median earnings for women are typically 75% to 80% of what men are paid.

Ultimately however, these policies are fresh and forward thinking, and likely to benefit the employers creative enough, and bold enough, to offer them.

Facebook offers up to $20,000 (£13,000) for egg freezing for female employees, an amount that many women can only dream of if they needed such a treatment.

'Innovative HR practices'

Egg freezing is one in a long line of innovative HR practices intended to be attractive to educated people with many employment options, seeking a focus on flexibility in the difficult balance between work and life. The costs appear to be moderate, although not trivial, at about 20% of average annual salary at these firms. The benefits, in terms of attracting and retaining employees, can be expected to significantly outweigh the costs. The positive PR will pay for itself by signalling these employers' values, with respect to women's control over this important life choice, to prospective female employees.

Some may see it as a gimmick but let’s hope it does signal to women that the technology industry is serious about wanting more of them, not just in their workforce, but ultimately in their boardroom.

5 Responses

  1. Women in work

    A pity,  I feel,  that other successful opportunities have not been included in this article instead of focussing on just the one.

    One of the most popular I have encountered talking to both Employers and Employees is where they take maternity leave [in New Zealand the state pays for certain periods off ] and the Employer keeps them closely involved in he workplace.  That means they are given some work they can do at home;  they are bought in for Team meetings and other office activities as appropriate;  they are allowed in certain situations to bring their babies for short periods so they can participate in the aforementioned;  they are still considered for outside courses/training/promotional activities;  etc. 

    These opportunities are much easier to implement in industries such as IT and similar office-based activities.  I am however aware of such provisions being provided to and eagerly accepted by  a young mother of 2, employed as a saw operator in a highly computerised timber operation.  As it turned out she was way more capable than any men they had previously employed, so were keen to retained her skills………….and they have.

    Talking particularly to Employees, this gives them the choice to have their children earlier when they feel they are best placed  to provide what they believe is best provided by young parents.

    Many construction companies are now employing more women, mainly because they have been found to be much more careful with machinery, resulting in less repairs and longer maintenance-free periods, and some of the opportunities mentioned above are being implemented here.

    Contrary to some commentators, much is being done………..although I accept totally much more can be done.  No matter, if we continue to highlight what is working and what benefits can be attained, particularly with smaller companies, we are better placed to bring about change than just whinging and criticising….so well done Apple and Facebook.  It's just that when smaller Employers read about the things the corporates do they tend to be switched off with the thought they do not have the same resources, when in fact they do have numerous opportunities.

    Cheers.  DonR.

  2. success rates

    Janet, I don't think anything is presupposed. However, I do agree that it is important to communicate the probabilities of success, which change dramatically with age, and are improving with every innovation in the technologies concerned. However, as with any serious medical intervention, this is something that would be required during the counselling process prior to undergoing such a treatment. That is something that the providers would be expected to deliver rather than the HR function, IMO.

  3. Fertility treatment not a guaranteed success

    This presupposes that all fertility treatment guarantees a successful outcome – a baby when you want one. Sadly, as many people who have been through fertility treatment the success rate is nowhere near 100%. If you have frozen your eggs in order to have a family later in life you may find yourself disappointed with the outcome.


  4. It’s a matter of choice

    Media and public alike have been too quick to criticise the move by Facebook and Apple to pay female workers to freeze their eggs. In reality, these companies are being progressive, acknowledging that many of their female employees wish to have children later in life and enabling them to do so. It’s not such a sinister move as is being portrayed – in fact, these companies are incredibly supportive of parenting and offer a whole arsenal of benefits to support women if they choose to have children, from bonuses to surrogacy subsidies.  

    The truth is that many of the women working in tech are young. They don’t want to put their careers on hold to have children but neither do they have the funds to stop their biological clocks. Allowing women to freeze their eggs makes this choice accessible, providing further flexibility about how they want to play out their careers. View it as a radical perk or a chain to the office – ultimately it provides a choice and one which women aren’t forced to take.  

    Hayley Fisher, People Director, Thomsons Online Benefits

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James Hayton

Professor of HRM

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