apple egg freezing
Feminism

Why Facebook & Apple Egg Freezing Won’t Get Women into Tech

 

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

 

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. 

2 Comments

  • Kevin

    As a 50+ year old male developer I have to say that most of the above simply won’t work, at least for coders. Because it misses the fundamental problem about women and girls going into coding in the first place: by the time they’re 20 it’s too late. Maybe for other tech careers it’s different, but as coding is still in many ways the core of tech, and often a stepping stone onwards for people who don’t stay in it, I think this needs looking at hard.

    When I first entered the field back in the mid 80s about 30% of developers were women, particularly in business IT, where I had women leads more often than not. But that changed in the 90s and we now have this lamentable male monoculture of coders (and, no I don’t like it). There is absolutely no innate difference that makes men better than women at coding, or vica versa.

    The issue is that coding is a skill, like playing the violin, painting or crafting a sculpture. Of course you can teach coding, and to be good at it a formal education is required at some point, you really have to put your 10,000 hours in to acquire it. It’s not about learning this language or that API, that’s secondary, it’s about learning how to think in the structured, abstract way that good coders do, how to recognise patterns in problems and to know when and how to deploy a particular pattern to craft a solution. Like learning a musical instrument that takes practice and practice and practice.

    Now back in the 80s people only really got there hands on a computer to learn on when they started formal training, or when to university, so there was a level playing field. I think the 70/30% split at the time represented the innate sexism of society at that point towards women and STEM subject.

    But in the 90s computers became ubiquitous. Suddenly boys, and it was predominately boys because of the sexism of society over this, didn’t start learning to code at 18, they were in their rooms learning BASIC and Assembler and the innards of logic when they were 11. After the arrival of the internet and the resources to learn how to code this just got more and more pronounced. So by the time many coders were looking for their first job at 21 they were a large way towards having the 10,000 hours under their belt. The girls meanwhile were predominately put off coding because it was perceived as geeky and not feminine.

    So role forward into the 21st Century and if I’m employing coders then while there may be good women coder graduating with talent and ability, the majority of the immediatly productive people are going to be male, because they’ve put the hours in. So we ended up with a vicious feedback loop whereby women were gradually squeezed out and from 70/30 back in the 80s it’s 95/5 now or worse.

    This of course is just stupid, because coding can offer the sort of workplace flexibility that a lot of women want. I took advantage of it myself, when my kids were small I was largely freelance and working from home and I’d go and meet them from school, do the late afternoon/early evening childcare, then start work again at 7 while my partner took over when she got back from her more normal 9-5 day.

    But while that basic problem exists that by 18, on average, the boys will have 5,000 hours more experience than the girls then you’re not going to change the mix.

    To solve that society itself has to change so that girls are not put off from being, for the purposes of shorthand, ‘geeky’. Spending hours in front of a screen mashing code around when your 14 has to be seen as a fun thing to be doing for the girls as much as the boys. I honestly don’t know how you tackle this – , but no amount of offering sticking plaster to make tech careers ‘women friendly’ post haste will work if the fundamental issues about being attracted to coding in the first place are not solved. There is no short cut, you need to put the hours and the practice in, and girls have got to want to do that as much as boys before the problem will be solved.

    • Lynn C Schreiber

      Thank you for your very insightful post. I am not a coder, so can’t comment on your theory, but I do agree with your conclusion that IT education has to come at an early age, and be presented as a fun and engaging activity to both boys and girls. I do think that the last few years have seen a change – the organisations that I mention are only two of many groups who target girls. I could add GirlsWhoCode and BlackGirlsCode in USA and similar organisations are springing up in UK. CodeClub is keen to encourage girls, and is aimed at children between 9 and 11 years.

      The reason my website Jump! Mag focuses on preteens, because I believe that it is such a vital and overlooked age. It’s the time where the differences between genders become more pronounced, and girls are often pushed out of the traditionally ‘male’ hobbies.

      At the same time, this push to get girls into STEM professions must be accompanied by a change in working practices, because otherwise they will not stay in their chosen profession. Around half of women in tech jobs leave within the first 10 years, so this becomes a game of what came first, the chicken or the egg? What do we fix first? Or do we try to improve both inspiration for girls, and working conditions for women (and men!).

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