So much has been written and discussed about the recent news that both Facebook and Apple are covering the cost of female egg freezing in their health care plans, it's difficult to insert a new point of view. The reactions have spanned from positive: more choice for working women equals empowerment, to incendiary: the underlying message from Apple and Facebook is an unfair (and illegal) pressure on female employees to delay childbirth for career advancement. Before continuing, I'll share that I am squarely in the camp that this is a positive and progressive inclusion in a company's health care coverage. I know plenty of career and family-focused women that would benefit from the option to exercise the freezing of their eggs. And the key word here is option; both Apple and Facebook are empowering choice.
I believe the largest criticism on the news doesn't directly attack the new policy; instead it surfaces a far larger issue for working women. The greater challenge for working women than deciding when to have a baby, is what to do after having a baby. A recent New York Times article, "The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus," states in its very first sentence "one of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children." It backs the truth of the grim opening with "mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications." So, the far more important policies for progressive companies to institutionalize are policies that support and empower choice, flexibility and equality after a woman has had a child.
I'll share my personal experience returning to work after my first daughter was born 10 years ago. During my brief maternity leave, I spent a significant amount of time and energy anguishing over exactly how it was possible for me to return to work. Finding and paying for quality childcare for my infant was an enormous concern. Mapping career advancement while maintaining a presence in my infant daughter's life was another enormous concern. The pressure to define work life balance took on a whole new importance that was truly overwhelming. I felt destined to fail at either career or motherhood, or worse yet, destined to fail at both. I returned to work, and somehow married my career and motherhood together into one messy union in the ways that most working women do—because there is no choice.
And, in a large negotiation with my employer at the time, I was granted "flexibility" upon my return from maternity leave. A flexibility that looked nothing like the first several proposals I'd offered that would allow me to return to work with a degree of transitional ease. Instead of the job share models I'd proposed, or the 30 hour work week I'd proposed, or the part-time work-from-home model I'd proposed, I was allowed to return to work with a 1/2 work day every Friday, leaving the office at 1pm—at a reduced salary, of course. Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about this limited "flexibility" is that at the time it felt like a "win." Those 4-hours every Friday afternoon, and the acknowledgement I felt I'd received from my employer that my life had dramatically changed as a new mother, meant everything to me. I did weigh what those 4-hours would cost me in terms of career advancement, but I decided the additional time with my daughter was worth it.
I don't want to assail Apple or Facebook for what I believe is a truly progressive move forward empowering choice among female employees. But I do want to ask both companies, along with all other companies who want to retain female talent, what are the models and policies in place to support a working mother after she has a child and wants to return to work? On-site child care? Coverage of childcare? Institutionalized job share models? Work from home policies? All seem valid to name just a few.
With over 15 years of experience developing global marketing and content strategies, NancyGalanty is Vice President, Community Development at MyersBizNet. She oversees the strategic growth of the Women in Media Mentorship Initiative (WIMMI), Media Legends and MediaVillage.
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