Equality frozen in time with latest employee benefit?November 2014
When I heard about Facebook and Apple’s practice of offering female employees the opportunity to freeze their eggs (in order to retain and attract more female talent), my first thoughts were extremely negative. It smacked of a paternalistic and patronizing attitude, which the whole gender balance argument stands against – and yet this initiative was all about ensuring a more fair gender balance!
When it comes to industry, the tech sector suffers particularly badly from this imbalance. In the US only 26% of tech industry professionals are women, so it’s not surprising that the most innovative firms looks for innovative ways to attract talented women.
But here’s the thing. Why not just pay them the same? As Professor James Hayton of the Warwick Business School points out: “Broader pay equity might be an even stronger signal of the importance of women in the workforce.”
Hear! Hear! And why should employers get involved in their employees’ reproductive choices in the first place? “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,” Apple’s statement read.
OK, so why not focus on offering more flexibility and support for parents? Are the days of the company crèche long gone? And, anyhow, freezing eggs doesn’t necessarily guarantee fertility. You can’t equate physical fitness with egg fitness… And by offering such an option, isn’t a company promoting the idea that women need to postpone having children in order to succeed?
That’s when I knew I couldn’t be reading Facebook and Apple’s policy in context. Ah, context. That most valuable and overlooked factor! And voila. Here it comes. The clarity of context! It turns out that, according to Facebook, egg freezing was an employee benefit that had been requested. The offer is also egalitarian, men are offered the same benefit by covering the cost of freezing sperm.
You’ve also got to remember that these benefits are about American employees who live in a country where health insurance is a necessity and fertility treatments are not always covered. It’s all beginning to look and sound a little more rational now isn’t it?
Indeed, on closer examination, in answer to critics that the move may actually dissuade women from having famiies at all, Facebook currently offers four months of paid maternity leave for parents – exceeding the usual six-week offer for most mothers in the US – and also offers $4000 to help with newborn expenses.
Apple also offers an adoption assistance programme.
And just as I was coming to terms with all that. Microsoft boss Satya Nadella went and advised women not to ask for a pay rise and karma-gate ensued. He has since apologized for his comments, describing them as ‘inarticulate’ and ‘completely wrong’. He also redeemed himself – and Microsoft – by revealing that one of his main goals at the tech giant is “to continue to focus on equal pay for equal work and equal opportunity for equal work”. Currently, although it fluctuates a little each year, the overall difference in base pay among genders and races – when considered at level and job title – is consistently within 0.5%. Last year, women in the US at the same title and level earned 99.7% of what men earned at the same title and level.
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