On the heels of the Microsoft CEO’s comments on women and raises, Apple stirred the women-and-work pot some more this week by announcing they would be covering egg freezing for women.
Due to women’s biology and the nature of career-building, prime child-bearing years can coincide with prime career-building years. The older you get, the older your eggs get, and the harder it is to conceive. Freezing younger eggs could mean that women have more years to be able to work, and then conceive later (although there is some question about how effective the freezing process is). In other words, it takes the woman’s child-bearing “biological clock” out of the equation.
Apparently, this benefit has been offered in other high-paying jobs, like investment banking and law. Facebook has reportedly been offering $20,000 in benefits for egg freezing for a while. Research from Harvard Labor Economist Claudia Goldin shows firms reward people who can work longer hours and sacrifice more personal time. This type of commitment to a job tends to eliminate the possibility for flexibility, which people who want to or need to take care of their kids, as well as work full-time, are going to need.
Arguments in favor include that it is “family-friendly” and allows women to focus on their careers and still have children, albeit a bit later, and fertility issues are not uncommon for women in general, and it is a positive when coverage is offered for them. Arguments against include that with that benefit available, women who don’t take it will seem less ambitious, and it will further prevent the need for companies to truly come up with “family-friendly”policies like workplace flexibility, accessible and affordable child care, and paid parental leave.
I attend a lot of events featuring successful women on panels discussing women and work, and more and more frequently, young women are putting their hands up to ask these role models for their wisdom on when to have children if you want a successful career. One young-20s participant at a talk recently on venture capital for women entrepreneurs asked if there was a formula for how long to wait to have children after starting a company. These young women clearly grasp the struggle of the so-called “work-life balance” that has been debated heavily over the past few years.
More and more the answer I am hearing from these female industry giants is that while timing a family may have some value (although the process may be anything but foolproof), a woman’s choice of a life partner is one of the most important career moves she can make. Sheryl Sandberg offered this advice, in her bestseller Lean In: “When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”
We can’t necessarily decide when to have kids, and who to fall in love with. But the issues of partners, careers, and finance is a real one, especially for young people who are trying to figure out how to cast their lives. At the end of the day, the work-life balance question often comes down to the need for income and flexibility, no matter when the family comes along. The more young women are prepared to understand the financial equation and career possibilities available to them — and how to seize opportunity and manage money effectively — the more options they will have to navigate the complicated world of love, work, and money.