Striking a Work-Life Balance for Women in the Workplace
Should Apple and Facebook pay about $20,000 per woman to freeze their eggs and store them? Is this an ethical policy? What about women who are beyond child bearing age? Is it fair that they do not receive $20,000 for other benefits such as increased medical needs that come with aging? What about men? Should Apple and Facebook provide the same amount to men who choose to freeze their sperm?
Back in October 2014 the two tech giants decided to offer another benefit to those who choose it, and they already offer many helpful and unusual benefits intended to foster healthier and happier conditions. Some worry about a tacit message to women that they had better want the egg freezing if it's offered, that they will look bad to management if they don’t focus entirely on their careers right now and put off child-rearing. But that’s just one side of the story. Many companies now offer free or low-cost, on-site childcare without being challenged that they had better have children right away for the sake of their careers.
The motivation for the egg-freezing perk seems to be to give women a fair chance to assume leadership roles in their companies and delay getting pregnant at a time in their career where the ladder is available to them to move up in the organization. The age at which most men and women are at the peak of their careers also happens to be the same age most women begin to have children. And in corporate America, motherhood is viewed as a liability. Childcare responsibilities still primarily fall on the mother, and the US requires businesses to offer the least amount of maternity leave among all developed countries. Not to mention that we're still confined to a relatively strict 9-5 work schedule.
Sabrina Parsons, who has served as CEO of Palo Alto Software since 2007, points out that mid-career women often face a decision: advance in their careers or start a family. Those who choose to have children are far more likely than working fathers to take extensive time off from their careers, putting them at a major disadvantage when it comes to raises and promotions. Additionally, the corporate schedule is tolling on working mothers. To advance in many cut-throat businesses, it's an unwritten rule that you need to be at the office early and stay late, even though more face time at the office does not equate with more productivity.
Work-balance issues have been front and center in the workplace for many years now that women have opportunities available to them notwithstanding the glass ceiling phenomenon that still exists. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 56% of working mothers said it was very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of their jobs and their families; 50% of working fathers, nearly as many as working mothers, said the very same thing.
The modern work place has become a laboratory for finding ways to help retain and keep talented women and still allow them to have it all. We cannot deny that their choices are different than men who don’t carry the unborn for nine months or, for the most part, do not have the same child rearing responsibilities as women.
The moral principle of justice (i.e., fairness) is that equals should be treated equally; unequals, unequally. Men and women are unequal with respect to the biological clock so the egg-freezing benefit is ethically justified. Still, the same option should be made available to men.
There are criticisms of Apple and Facebook’s policy as stated by Harriet Minter in a piece for the UK publication The Guardian: “By telling their female staff to hold off on having babies, these companies are demanding their employees put them before everything else, before their families, before their health. Rather than saying, have your children in your own time and we’ll support you with well-paid parental leave and subsidized childcare; work really hard through your most fertile years and then when you may not be able to have kids anymore, you can give it a shot with the eggs we froze for you as a perk.”
I see this as a cynical view and attributing motives to the companies that do not exist in reality. The choice is still up to the women. Over time she may find that her career is so important that having children is not the top priority. She may decide that since she did not marry the frozen eggs would not be used. The point is the egg-freezing benefit is there for her to make a better choice about career and motherhood. We need to realize today’s workplace is far different than years ago when women stayed at home while men brought home the bacon. I do have one concern on the ethical front. What happens if the eggs are unused?
Blog posted by Steven Mintz on May 26, 2016. Dr. Mintz is a professor in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at www.ethicssage.com.