Commentary

Poached Eggs And The New Corporate Toast

Earlier in the week, Apple and Facebook each revealed a new perk for their female employees: egg freezing and storage. Positioned as a way to recruit and retain 20- and 30-something women, the up-to-$20,000 ovoid-based bennie offers a path of reproductive management allowing for optimal nose-to-the-grindstone job dedication during those crucial years when fertility and career-building intersect.

To me, it sounded straight out of The Onion.

As it turns out, the news of this Brave New World-ish move nearly broke the satirical daily.  Onion editors quickly put up some fake person-in-the street-style photos, with quotes underneath that were more obvious, and true, than actually funny. For instance, they had a middle-aged male “art appraiser” asking,  “What about the women who want to have kids now? Do they at least get offered a decent severance package?”

Indeed, what if you already have a demanding job, and you start feeling pressure around the office not to be an icky, inconvenient “breeder”? What if you happen to get pregnant, because, um, you want to have both a family and a career at the same time?  Or perhaps you don’t feel like putting yourself through the uncomfortable process of extracting eggs when the success rate is still murky? (That’s why two go-rounds are included at both companies.)

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And, if you do become “with child” the old-fashioned way, will you have to wear a scarlet A on your chest,  (for “Antifreezer!”) and risk getting sent to a home for wayward career women?

What if you get laid off? You can carry your cardboard file box out the door, holding your sad plant and your rolled posters, but then you have to worry about boxing up and moving your eggs, too (at least metaphorically) -- especially if unemployment lasts past your Cobra. Will you have to cut corners and find a cut-rate egg storage plant?

When the whole process becomes normalized, will corporations like ad agencies actually end up bringing the whole operation in-house, for cost-saving reasons? Will “egg retrieval” rooms start appearing next to nap rooms? Eventually, will those heavy doors of the gleaming stainless steel refrigerators in thousands of work kitchens open to reveal rows of ovoid-filled beakers labeled Jen 1, Jen 2, Jen 3, Hannah, Molly, Alex, Serena, Cate, Becky, Rachel. Georgia, and Jess.

And what if you turn out to be one of the lucky ones, and despite having no time for a social life, you defy the odds, and find a mate, and you retrieve your eggs and have a successful pregnancy at 50? Does that mean you’re out to pasture?  After all , you’ve lost your youthiness, and now you’re just another used uterus in the work force, who can’t be available 24/7.

I joke. Certainly, life is messy, and there’s no perfect answer. It can’t hurt to have the option. After all, the whole process started for enlightened medical reasons, as a way for younger women with cancer to retain their fertility choices after chemo treatments.  And, women who have trouble getting pregnant and require IVF treatments will be mighty grateful for the coverage of two rounds.

Still, it immediately reminded me of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. This is an incredibly prescient dystopian novel written in 1985, in which a religious dictatorship takes away all women's rights and starts classifying women according to their levels of fertility.(“Unwomen” are sterile, or widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and political dissidents.) And the high-status wives of leaders have young and fertile “handmaids” to carry and birth their babies for them.

Tech companies are not repressive theocracies. (Well, they do preach the religion of the digit.) And while egg-freezing is intended to be a benevolent move that helps level the gender field, it will result in lots of bizarre stratifications.

What I find most troubling is the arrogance of these companies wanting to engineer an answer rather than doing the hard and frustrating work of “getting it.”  That means making room for and valuing women as humans who rightly deserve to be 50% of the work force. These are human needs, not just female ones. Really, the punishing standard of the 80-hour work week is untenable, not macho. It’s a recipe for burnout that can’t be sustained for non-machines in the long run, no matter how much free food and dry cleaning come with it.

I know that egg-freezing is just one part of a Facebook package that now includes “baby money” and more maternity and paternity leave. That’s great. Paternity leave is something that benefits all human beings.  So would on-site child care, sick-child care, flex schedules, job sharing, transparent payrolls, and on and on.

Recently, Satya Nadella, who this year took over for Steve Ballmer as head of Microsoft, got in hot water for what was seen as his dismissive  (if not arrogant and sexist) answer to a question about  how female employees should go about asking for pay raises. At a conference called (and you can’t make this up) “The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing,” he responded: "It's not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” He added that not asking for a raise was “good karma.”

Nadella later apologized and said he’d been “inarticulate.” He said he “wholeheartedly supported programs” to close the pay gap for women.

And indeed, in many of these companies, you have to leave and take a new job in order to get a raise.

But that’s where the ineffable male privilege gap shows up, especially in tech. You can’t rely on karma for getting paid the same as your male counterpart, who started out higher than you. Nor can you rely on karma forfinding your mate or reproducing at the right time, when you won’t be considered a drag on the numbers for your boss.

Unless guys like Nadella go through some sensitivity training, they will still have no clue about all the invisible barriers for women in getting and keeping their jobs, and ascending the corporate ladder.

The number-one barrier is not having enough women there to begin with who are role models, have navigated these issues, and can advocate for others.

So it becomes a chicken and egg thing. Don’t get me started.

16 comments about "Poached Eggs And The New Corporate Toast".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 16, 2014 at 2:31 p.m.

    As you said, you can't make this up. But, someone did. Or at least thought up the idea that freezing eggs was somehow an adequate approach to this issue. Sometimes companies are so into themselves they can't even find a person that will ask a simple question: What???

  2. Dorothea Marcus from Weichert Realtors, October 16, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.

    I was lucky when I worked at JWT in the 90s and was given paid leave for adopting a child from China. I wonder how often companies factor in adoption as well as childbirth as a parenting alternative. Fewer health risks and time off, great for worldwide population control.

  3. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, October 16, 2014 at 5:17 p.m.

    I'd rather put a more beneficent slant on this. I suspect both companies saw this as an unalloyed benefit. I'm having trouble imagining any woman choosing to do this so she can put off childbirth until much later. I'm having trouble imagining anyone thinking egg harvesting as an exc ellent tool for career planning.

    Perhaps Baraba Lippert has an inside on this. I'm thinking this was thought up as an excellent collateral benefit as an insurance policy for any of their employees who developed cancer and needed egg harvesting before planned hysterectomies.

    Let me put it this way: any woman who deliberately used this as a career planning tool doesn't sound like the sort of person aching to have children.

    I'm just sayin'..........

  4. Claudia Reilly from none, October 16, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.

    'Will “egg retrieval” rooms start appearing next to nap rooms?'

    That made me laugh out loud as I could imagine it happening to save money.

    When I was young, I remembered being surprised to learn the rich once sent their babies off to live with a wet nurse for the first few years. But now I think what we will have soon is the extracted eggs of rich female executives who do not want to take time off (or gain weight) being placed in a surrogate "nanny" who will then keep and nurse the child for the first 3 years until the child can be sent to pre-school.

  5. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, October 16, 2014 at 6:03 p.m.

    Nice column B. I'm feeling especially creepy about this. It seems from everything I've read, this HERO mentality of "I worked all night, every night this year," is kinda unhealthy and a very telling symbol that somewhere along the chain there is a shit load of crappy management. Did people at Apple work all day and all night for so long that they never got out to see that consumers really liked larger phones? And what age is appropriate for them to unfreeze and insert? I suppose the future will be a FaceBook connected world of sixty year old Moms with one year old toddlers hauling the new even larger iPhone 17s in the back of their expanded strollers. But I guess it will work out, as we'll be chipped up to live until one-hundred twenty five.

  6. Jo Duran from BOM, October 16, 2014 at 7:52 p.m.

    This makes me foam at the mouth. The pressure for women to do so much and yet still get paid so little. WHY do we put up with all this crap?! Why? Does the world actually revolve around a penis? If a woman came up with this perk, she should be slapped! It's bad enough that some women actually have C-sections to schedule their birth for work. Great piece but dang! PS: I'll need some jelly with that toast. Men should have their swimmers frozen too. Fair is fair!

  7. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks, October 16, 2014 at 9:08 p.m.

    Madonna mia.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 16, 2014 at 9:17 p.m.

    Can you imagine in advertising if certain CDs pick certain women for prime projects because they know they've "frozen?"

  9. Annette Foglino from Angelvine, October 16, 2014 at 9:36 p.m.

    Great piece. Love the samples in the fridge, Jen 1, etc. I can see it! What about freezing embryos for couples though. They freeze better and have a better chance of going to term. Although I guess it gets messy if/when said couple breaks up.

  10. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, October 17, 2014 at 4:24 a.m.

    Probably a well-intentioned idea, and I cannot see it being generated by a man, or a table full of men looking for the next, best, most thoughtful offering a company could make to its female workforce.
    Are there any data that show who the women are that need this costly perk? Or if there was a swell of demand that prompted it?
    And, if a women waits to the point that it is no longer physically viable for her to carry a child to term, does she turn to craigslist.org for surrogates who will act as an incubator for a price?
    I think this move raises more questions than it answers. (IMHO)

  11. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, October 17, 2014 at 11:11 a.m.

    1. Fertilization and implantation is far from a sure thing compared to doing in the old-fashioned way.
    2. Who wants to have a toddler and go through menopause at the same time?
    3. How about just making businesses accommodating to women with children?
    4. Maybe the men should have vasectomies and bank their sperm so they don't have to waste time coaching Little League teams.

  12. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 17, 2014 at 12:47 p.m.

    All great points, peeps. There's another overarching problem: the idea that the 80 hour work week is simply "how we do it" and everyone has to accommodate to it. Not sure what it's going to take to break that.

  13. marnie delaney from doodlebug, October 17, 2014 at 1:41 p.m.

    While commendable in a way, this does (besides being worthy of the lifetime out-of-the-box thinking award) seem to be an out-of- order approach to dealing with the issues of infertility and ridiculous business practices. I heard part of a story on NPR yesterday about the incredible harassment of women in the gaming industry. From attempting to crush careers with phony posts to threats of rape, there are misogynistic behaviors that would seem to demand preeminence in the tech industries' list of things with which to cope. Priorities matter.

  14. Nancie Martin from Tell My Story, October 17, 2014 at 2:33 p.m.

    As someone who waited too long to "try" for a whole host of reasons, including a demanding work schedule, I approve of this idea. But I must say that bearing a child at 50, pre-frozen or not, seems highly unlikely for all but the most fertile.

  15. Jim English from The Met Museum, October 18, 2014 at 2:48 p.m.

    A "Scarlet Letter" indeed. Even Hester Prynne was spared an 80 hour work week. Claudia's got it right above in #3: "How about just making businesses accommodating to women with children?"

  16. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 15, 2014 at 5:48 p.m.

    There's that dystopian again. The egg planting is a wee jump away from that dystopian plan which is already happening. It's all part of the big plan for the workers to be totally dependent upon their employers as in indentured servitude from the worker bees to the lieutenants. What would you do if you were beyond choice for a child and only left with company paid eggs ? Lots in between there. Fbeast can tell what your mood is and change it.

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