An Open Letter to Facebook and Apple

(This letter is in response to a recent article in the Guardian: Apple and Facebook to Pay for Female Employees to Freeze Their Eggs)

Dear Apple and Facebook,  

Let’s say you have a wonderful programmer, but he has a prosthetic leg, and the elevator is broken in your building. It’s no big deal – he just comes to work half an hour early every day to slowly make his way up the stairs. Oh, and he always packs a lunch so he doesn’t have to leave during the day. Also, even though he would love a promotion, he avoids talking to management because they’re three extra floors up. He makes these sacrifices, he works around what’s missing, and he does a killer job.

Then one day you make an announcement: You are going to invest in robotics! In 15 years, your employee might be able to get his very own bionic leg!

That’s great. But you know what would help today?            

Fixing the damn elevator.

So, you’re going to pay for women employees to freeze their eggs. That’s great, really, but you know what would help today? If you announced 6 months of paid maternity leave, and gave all workers the option to work part time with a prorated salary. If you made these adjustments, women would go through hell and high water just to work for you.

Which is easier: asking women to completely upend their biological clocks to stay in line with the current work culture? Or adjusting the work culture – just a little bit – and the institutional expectations – just a little bit – so that women don’t have to make these kinds of sacrifices in the first place?

Ultimately, this problem is not technological, but cultural and institutional. Relying on a technological fix so that women can put off childbearing until their 40’s is a crude, stopgap workaround for a culture that requires successful women to be as much like men as possible. You will only truly succeed in attracting women to your field when you accept that being as good as a man is not mutually exclusive with being a woman and a mother.

Signed,

Sofia Echegaray, Software Tester

Advertisements

The Real Thing

Yesterday a friend lent me an old, large monitor, so I didn’t have to squint when I looked at my small laptop.

I got it set up in my home office, and suddenly my entire work experience changed.

First of all, seeing everything BIG and BOLD made my work feel different. “If my ideas are this BIG,” part of me seemed to say, “then they must be important. And I should work on them.”

Then I breezed through a labor-intensive task I’d been putting off for months. All this time, I thought I was lazy and undisciplined, when the real problem was that my small screen was hard on my eyes.

Surprise! Turns out I don’t suck, after all!

I’m really interested in this intersection between how we perceive ourselves, and what’s really going on. It happens all the time with workspaces and ergonomics. For instance, you might see a pile of paper and think, “I’m such a disorganized person,” when the real problem is that you don’t have an filing system that works for you. Or you might put off working on your Great American Novel, and all the while, you’re thinking you have bad focus. But really your chair is subtly giving you leg cramps.

Of course there is a place in life for discipline, and for carrying on even when things are uncomfortable. But why not make things easier on ourselves when we can?

What’s really going on is not always what we think is going on . . . even with ourselves.

Seasons, Context, and Meaning

I remember fall in Connecticut when I was a child. I played outdoors until it grew dark, crunched leaves underfoot, and stared up at the brilliant stars overhead through a crisp, cold night. While I did loathe going back to school, otherwise fall was a beautiful season.

I spent most of my childhood in places like this — places where there were trees, and small farms, and snowy fields. But when I was 18, I went to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was my first time living in a city. Around the same time, I started getting very depressed during fall and winter.

When there are delicious fall smells, beautiful fields covered with frost, and incredible colors on the leaves, then everything feels in place. There is sadness that summer is ending, but also a sense of anticipation for the new season coming in.

But in the city, there is no context. No crab apples falling to the ground; no pine needles; no frost-covered fields. Snow isn’t beautiful, but just a pile of grey and black slush. Worst of all, in Cambridge there were no stars and no real night. The night sky glowed an unearthly orange.

So when fall came, it didn’t mean anything, and it wasn’t part of a cycle. It was just dark. It was just cold.

In a way, I wasn’t sensitive to the change of seasons as much as I was sensitive to the change of seasons out of context. Fall in the country felt like the turning of the year; fall in the city just felt like . . . death.

I suspect that part of reason people get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is that the physical body needs context and meaning to deal with change. Right now, the treatment for SAD is to try to replace the sunlight that’s missing: get a person under sunlamps, have them take a vacation somewhere sunny, etc. And that is certainly helpful. But I suspect that if you take a person with SAD, and let them spend a week outside, working with the land, putting their hands in the soil, walking in the woods, and eating seasonal foods, their symptoms will also improve.

This need for context and meaning is also true for life. For example, how do we deal with aging as a culture? In America, it’s about denial. Dye your grey; get a facelift; do pilates; fit into your skinny jeans. This is because we’ve lost the context that gives aging its meaning. Life is supposed to be a cycle, where each age has challenges, but also benefits. Old age is supposed to come with gifts; grandchildren, respect in the community, lifelong ties and shared experieces with family. But in this modern age, where the elderly are so often shut out of life, there is none of the consolation of age. Without meaning, aging is just cold, and dark.

So often, we try to fix things or cure them. We cannot fix loss, and illness, and death — but we can create connection. Everyone experiences misfortune, but not all misfortune causes suffering. Whether the journey is ultimately healing or crushing depends largely on the context and meaning of the experience, and the sense of being connected to something larger than oneself.