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IT Giants Apple and Facebook announced that they will pay for their female employees to freeze their eggs. On the face of it, this seems like a wonderful new choice. But is it, really?
Imagine that you are in your mid-thirties, a mid-level executive in an interesting job, your career poised at a crucial juncture. Married or single. If you are a male executive, your upward trajectory is a certainty. You will marry (if not already), have kids, and your career has no blips, for sure.
But if you are a female executive with no kids, the biological clock has been ticking away. This is because although the average number of usable eggs in a fourteen to sixteen girl is approximately 6,00,000, by the age of thirty these are reduced to 12%, and to about 3% by the age of forty. This reduces the chances of a conception as you grow older.
So, Facebook and Apple have offered the next best option. Postpone conception by freezing your eggs. The ovaries are first stimulated with injections to produce more eggs. Then, under anaesthesia, and ultrasound guidance, eggs are withdrawn, through a needle inserted in the vagina. The presence of these eggs is confirmed under the microscope, and then they are frozen by a process called vitrification. When a woman decides that she wants to have a baby, the eggs are unfrozen, fertilized with the partner’s sperm and then are transplanted into her womb.
The risks involved in the procedure of stimulating the ovary and the process of removal, the long term effects of freezing (on the quality of the egg), the costs, and success-rate of this procedure are all subjects of an article on fertility. But, are worth knowing, especially because they are drowned out in the praise of fertility procedures.
What is also of interest is the subtle implication to women employees regarding the choices they will have to make and the not-so-subtle warning to women who might want to defy this offered ‘choice’.
To promote a work-friendly culture, employers provide many facilities. From on-site dry-cleaning services to gyms, arrangements for sleeping at the work-site to cafeterias with multinational cuisines, the emphasis is on asking for (and getting) 200% from the employees. The personal life of employees and their ‘me-time’ is controlled by giving them “so much” at the workplace that few should have a reason to leave this milieu of productivity and go home.
(Oh, I would love to be a fly on the wall in the board meeting that discusses “101 ways to keep your employees’ noses to the grindstone after five pm, and possibly, through the night.”)
Enter the female employee – career conscious, ambitious, and anxious to prove herself. But, she comes with a tick-tock, a biological one – which, alas, is ultimately deleterious to the balance sheet.
You need a new carrot, when you show the stick. So, what do you do? Hey, science to the rescue! Disguise the stick as the carrot; a giant, juicy one.
“Look, dear lady…er… of course we understand…we all feel the need to have a baby. Believe it or not, the wife and I have a few of them back home, (at least the last time I looked they were still there). But, ummm, we have this new policy, like an insurance policy that you can take.”
“Freeze the eggs that you may need and continue working. It is just a day-care procedure, ya’know.( You can get a hospital discharge and come to work that very day)… unfreeze them at leisure when you are less busy and have more resources at your disposal,( some years down the line). So, offspring with the man of your choice at the time of your choice. It is all about Freedom of Choice. All expenses paid, of course!”
“So, you might wanna freeze those eggs quickly and get that icky-bit out of the way. And, of course, if you still want to not commit to our work-culture and jeopardize your position with us, go ahead and have that baby now. You know where you will stand in the race to the top.”
Pic credit: Businesswoman on a ladder via Shutterstock
Hi. I am an anaesthetist by profession living and working in Mumbai.
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