2015 started with an interesting addition to the balance of work-life-family conversation. Apple joined forces with Facebook to cover the cost of egg freezing for their female staff. These American giants are pioneers by offering the $20K in coverage perk as part of their benefits package in an elective capacity. Why now? Will it work? The answers are not so simple. A 2014 study of Catalyst Research found that men held more than 95 % of CEO positions in both Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, for a total of 954 male CEOs out of 1,000 companies.
This means that 46 women hold the same positions as their male counterparts despite receiving the same education and having equal experience. It is a rule that goes back way before the glory days of Mad Men: there is a bias that favors male workers, especially in corporate America. Women reach career peaks at the same time they perceive their biological clocks to be ticking. Male mid-level managers do not have to face the tough decision: career advancement or starting a family. Once the decision towards family has been made, women statistically speaking are more likely to take time off work for pediatrician’s appointments and school functions than working dads.
Both Apple and Facebook feel this change will support women in the workplace by giving them the option to advance their careers and delay starting a family until they feel ready to do so. In a recent press statement, Apple stated, “We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.” As a female entrepreneur as well as a loving mother to my sons (ages 5 and 10), I want to express my opinion on this interesting development for women.
Career versus Family
Egg freezing is not a decision one goes about lightly. Usually, there is a medical reason prompting women to do so. The most common example is women whose fertility might be effected by cancer treatment. It is recommended by the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) for chemotherapy patients to do it. The ASRM does not recommend the invasive procedure to delay childbirth. There are safety, emotional and efficacy risks. Egg freezing is not a sure thing. It may give women false hope, and if time has run out, there may not be any other options. This could be a detriment to career women. As Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times points out, “workplaces could be seen as paying women to put off childbearing.” They could be paying them with false hope, which could negatively affect families. In the short-term, it may be a great solution. Companies get more working years out of their female work force. Long-term, it may not be that simple.
In 2010, there were 23.2 million working moms, down from 25.2 million in 2007. Mothers with young children are less likely to work than those with older children according to a study conducted by the Department of Labor. In 2010, 57.0 percent of moms with a child under six years old worked; 71 percent of these moms held a full-time job according to DOL. According to Pew Research, the share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.
A Happy Medium
Families are not defined by statistics, however. The decision to start a family is personal as well as the decision to delay it for a few years. A happy medium between starting a family and lessening career impact is to offer more flexibility rather than delay. A family friendly workplace is where women can raise their children with support from their corporate bosses. The choice is more personal than business in most cases. Companies can begin being more flexible by offering maternity and paternity leave. Other options include flexible hours and childcare benefits.
Companies have so many choices in helping shape that decision, other than giving the option to freeze the decision to have kids.
18 years of your life as a parent is scheduled around school times, practices, performances, conferences and work. It would benefit employers to understand the challenges working mothers face and allow for flexibility. By striking a balance, companies will be rewarded with loyalty and stronger productivity. According to a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM-), flexible hours can affect employees positively (93%) on the quality of employees’ personal/family life. Other benefits included employee morale/ job satisfaction (91%), and employee retention (89%).
Not Just Women
Dads are also expected to take a larger role in the family balance. According study conducted by PEW research, 50% dads say that juggling work and family is difficult for them. Both moms and dads that work feel continually rushed, 40% of moms and 34% of dads according to Pew Research. According to a study conducted by BHFS/Mercer – 72% of the companies surveyed adopt a work life focus as part of their benefits program since that increases retention the most.
Such benefits might include:
– Provide good maternity leave to both parents
– Provide flexible hours
– Provide wellness programs such as stress reduction, fitness, comprehensive health plans
– Provide Health Days: At work where your employees get free flu shots, preventive exams, vaccinations.
– Provide parenting classes: Host parenting classes in your company for parents
– Provide EPA (Employee Assistance Programs) including: personal financial assistance help, nanny services, childcare support to name a few
This debate will not go away any time soon. Starting a family at the cost of career advancement should not be something that women should be pressured to do. Corporations should be pushing flexibility and a family friendly culture to the forefront rather than medical procedures.