Innovation has been key to Apple and Facebook’s success in the 21st century. Will the widely reported “perk” for female employees to freeze their eggs at their employer’s expense be a success for these companies?
Apple, it is reported, has stated that this initiative is about empowering women “to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families”.
At first glance, both employee and employer appear to benefit from it. While a career and motherhood ought not to be mutually exclusive for women (notably, one doesn’t hear this said about fathers), the option for a woman to delay a family until she is further up the career ladder and earning more may also reduce childcare related problems for the employer. For instance, whilst the cost of childcare is a challenge to women in work, losing employees who cannot meet those costs also adds to the HR and training costs for the employer, not to speak of the talent drain.
There are other angles, however. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 provides that men must not be treated less favourably than a woman in the same circumstances. Offering to pay for egg freezing but not offering to pay for men to have their sperm frozen, or stored, could amount to direct (and unlawful) sex discrimination.
Also, how will female employees really view this? Various commentaries have highlighted the apparently intrusive nature of such a “perk”. Will women who choose to have children earlier on in their careers, instead of availing themselves of an employer-sponsored option to delay this, risk being perceived as not sufficiently committed to the business? Would this approach have negative consequences for their career, regardless of how well they perform?
This is a bold proposal, certainly, and not one without risks. It should be noted also that Apple announced a new extended maternity leave policy at the same time.
Employers, of course, could choose simply to invest in clear communication, mentoring and assessment of employees at all levels, and support for parents of both sexes as they balance work and family life. The UK government’s planned introduction of shared parental leave is aimed at encouraging employers to do exactly that.
Jessica Corsi is a partner at Doyle Clayton Solicitors
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