When I linked to an article on Jump! Mag about why Americans wash and refrigerate eggs, a follower on Twitter asked if I was referring to the story about Apple’s egg freezing offer. It seems that Apple and Facebook are offering a perk to women employees. The companies will pay for ‘ocyte-cryptopreservation’, so that their employees can delay having children until later in their careers. According to the Telegraph, the process “typically costs between $10,000 and $15,000, plus an additional $1,000-a-year to keep the harvested eggs on ice.”
What surprised me is that this story is being sold as an amazing way of encouraging women into tech companies. According to a study by the Anita Borg Institute, women received only 18.2% of all computer science and 18.4% engineering bachelors degrees in 2010. In recent months many top tech companies have released data on diversity in their workplaces, and it does not look good.
Women make up just 31% of Facebook’s workforce, and only 15% of them work in technical positions.
Even the presence of the celebrated COO Sheryl Sandberg can’t disguise that 77% of the senior-level jobs are held by men, and a majority of them are white. Just 2% of Facebook employees are black, in a country where 12% of the population is African American. It’s clear that diversity is a long way off.
There has been much discussion in the past months on how to persuade more young women into careers in technology. [Side note – Right now, looking at the horrors of #GamerGate, where prominent women in tech have been hounded out of their homes by abusive men, I am not sure if I would advise my daughter to seek a career in this field]
Groups like Stemmettes and ScienceGrrl are doing great work, getting into schools, and encouraging young girls to look at a career in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Mathematics), and on Jump! Mag, I’ve been keen to promote initiatives that have this aim. We’ve featured a range of women in STEM careers, eg interviews with a structural engineer and a biologist. What happens to these young women though, when they do pursue a career in these fields?
56% of women in technical positions leave tech companies within 10 years – more than double the drop out rate of men
According to research by the National Centre for Women and IT, if current trends continue, by 2018 the information technology industry will only be able to fill half of its available jobs. Added to this, research shows that companies with women in leading roles, outperform less diverse companies. In the coming years, encouraging women into tech careers will be essential for the further development of this field, and keeping women is proving to be even more tricky.
Kieren Snyder, interviewed over 700 women who’ve left technology jobs – do read her article with the personal stories like this one
I negotiated 12 unpaid weeks off when my son was born. Only it wasn’t really time off. I didn’t have to go to the office every day, but I was expected to maintain regular beeper duties and respond within 15 minutes any time there was a problem. I’d be nursing my screaming baby and freaking out that I was going to get fired if I didn’t answer the beeping thing right away.
Kieren explains, ‘lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare’ were the main reasons given for leaving their jobs. Few of them intended going back.
The solution to the lack of women in tech isn’t freezing their eggs. For one thing, there is no guarantee that even with IVF treatment, a women in her late 30s will get pregnant – research suggests that the chances of a live birth after egg freezing for women 30 and older are less than 25%. Who wants to face those odds?
And more importantly, Apple and Facebook are looking at this from the wrong side of the bassinet. Getting pregnant and having a baby is only the beginning – whether that happens when the employee is 27 or 37 years old, she will need support of a different kind.
The idea that we should be grateful, and see this as a marvellous perk is completely nuts. What these companies are basically saying is ‘give up your private life for the good of your career’. Traditionally the primary care-givers are women, so they are more or less forced to quit their jobs, when they can’t combine family life with a career, and men don’t fare much better. How many men don’t get home till after their kids have gone to bed? How many men are distracted at the dinner table, because they are just writing ‘one quick email’. How many men take their smartphone with them at the weekend and on holiday because they don’t dare not be available 24/7?
The relentless pursuit of the next rung on the career ladder means missing out on important milestones of your kids’ lives. How many people can say ‘Sorry, but I promised to take my daughter to the cinema this weekend, I will do the proposal you need on Monday’?
If companies want to encourage women into their workforce, and to keep them there, they need to develop policies that are more FAMILY FRIENDLY. This could include:
– an end to the expectation of 24/7 availability of employees
– decent maternity and paternity leave
– flexible working hours
– being able to ‘buy’ more leave, or take unpaid leave during school holidays
– affordable childcare
I am sure there are many more ideas that could be implemented, such as turning off email servers after an employee has left work, as VW did in Germany in 2011. This one has the advantage that it makes life more pleasant for ALL employees, not just those with children.
As a follower on Twitter remarked yesterday, ‘See also City firms who have gyms, swimming pools & beds for the night available on site. Hmmm, what’s the message there?’. Staff are sold these things as ‘perks’, but what the company is actually doing is keeping their employees working longer, or encroaching on more of their personal time.
The announcement ‘Apple and Facebook Pay for Egg Freezing to Keep Women Employees’, is being sold to us as positive, but a closer look reveals the reality is rotten.