(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.
Sofia Echegaray, Software Tester