Only in the last couple of years have I really thought seriously about whether or not I would like to have children. I’m now in my late twenties, and it’s becoming all too clear that the physiological egg-timer has been turned over, year-by-year working against me. I know I’m not ready, and I can’t imagine being ready any time soon. I’ve got things to do, people to see, adventures to have, but I’ve really only got about 10 more years to realistically squeeze all of that into if I want to have a child.
You might have heard that the good people of Facebook and Apple have recently upped their game when it comes to attempting to make life a little easier on their female employees who hope to one day have children. They are both offering to freeze the eggs of high-ranking female employees, shouldering the financial burden so that the women can allow their careers to flourish first (hint: before they "destroy their lives" by having that baby).
This has sparked a very interesting debate on whether or not their female employees should be offended: does this make women feel pressured into putting off procreating well into their late thirties or even early forties for fear of seeming disloyal? Or does it make women feel liberated, knowing that they really can "have it all" by progressing in a lucrative career for as long as their body clocks allow, safe in the knowledge that their eggs are in the fridge, waiting for them to jack it all in?
I feel that anyone settling into their best shocked-face needs to think a little harder about this. Aside from the distinctly creepy aspect to this whole episode, people seem to be assuming that this now means women at Apple are being forced to prove themselves through the choice they make. I get it. I can see why you might think that. But the fact that women have to deal with unreasonable professional choices around if and when to have a child is not new, and we need to look at the bigger picture: if anything this is surely a troubling symptom of a greater socio-political problem. It highlights that when it comes to family planning, women across the world get a pretty raw deal (except, of course, in Sweden). Having a child shouldn’t mean the end of your career, and that’s the saddest part of this announcement. It looks like Apple and Facebook agree that it does.
Instead of increasing the length of paid maternity and paternity leave, and implementing a system that protects women returning to work -- like improving funded childcare options and flexible working hours -- Apple and Facebook have initiated a scheme that is radical and flashy, which is also fortunately for them unlikely to be taken up by many women. The technology is also not perfect and cannot guarantee a pregnancy, so if any women choose this option, and rely upon it when planning their future family, they may well be sorely disappointed.
These problems are certainly not unique to the tech industry, and the numbers of women who struggle when returning to work after having a child is pretty demoralising. In a survey conducted last year by the law firm Douglas & Gordon returning mothers have felt discriminated against, and that:
[...] nearly half of working mums felt having children halted their career progression, while a third described rising up the career ladder as a mum ‘impossible’.
There are very few countries that even offer longer than 6 months paid maternity leave, let alone equal parental leave for both mother and father. In the US the mandatory maternity leave employers must offer is just 3 months.
If Apple and Facebook want to bring more women into the fold, then they need to offer something real and not just the art of misdirection -- "In my right hand you see your frozen eggs, in my left you see six weeks paid maternity leave and no more promotions. Ta daa!" Not many women are going to fall for this.
Kate Longman is a long-term lover of books, food, theatre and Star Wars. She currently spends a great deal of time thinking about boats and space while working as the Book Buyer for the Royal Museums Greenwich. Kate blogs about books and the publishing industry over at bitterlemonface.wordpress.com. You should read it.
Image Credit: Mflikie
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