The Missing Link to Innovation and Inclusion

Why Egg Freezing Moves Us in the Wrong Direction

By Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion

Slide1

Facebook and Apple recently announced plans to pay for their female employees to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons. It sounds so friendly to women, doesn’t it? – a triumph of technology over biology, relieving us from the pressure of child bearing and rearing so that we may build our careers.  Some people are even predicting the end of pregnancy and a rise in artificial wombs.  Wouldn’t that level the playing field with men?  Doesn’t it seem that they care about you, your choices, and your career?

Well, they don’t. They don’t care about you.  They care about your productivity.  They care about your ability to work 80-100 hours/week.  Most of all, they care about your short-term profitability.  They do NOT care about your long term professional development.  And it would seem they don’t even care about the long-term relevance of their own institutions.

In supporting this policy, Facebook, in particular, makes a fascinating, tacit admission. Leaning into work with kids is damned inconvenient.  So their answer is:  don’t.  Don’t have kids. Put parenting off, until you are done with work.

And by the way, when will you be done with work?  We’re living until 75 or 80 these days, often not retiring at all.  So those pesky kids may show up in your corner office wet, tired, and hungry just when you are trying to close a big deal after all.

We have another question: What would happen if the most successful people making the most important decisions in the most powerful institutions were not connected to children?  Could we count on those leaders to understand and account for the majority of the global population who are or will be parents?  And how could we count on these leaders to make the right decisions for a future in which they have no personal stake?  If you read your old economic textbooks, you will find that we are not the first to make this argument.  Joseph Schumpeter, the father of “creative destruction,” argues this very point in his 1942 treatise, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

Last but not least, why would you deprive yourself of an education in empathy that would set you apart as a leader? You see, children teach us a lot.  Scientists are now finding that parenting increases empathy in the brain.[i]  Sure, caring for children isn’t the only way to learn empathy.  But if you put your eggs on ice, we bet you’re buying more time at the office rather than investing in your most important personal relationships.  And the office is exactly where Facebook wants you to be.

In terms of your own personal career development, know this: The world is already full of empathy-challenged, narcissistic CEO’s.  We’re frankly worried about your ability to compete on a crowded playing field if you don’t build your empathy muscle.

Ironically, this isn’t even the best future for these companies which strive for innovation. Encouraging you to live your life in series rather than as a whole person sounds like something out of an early 1900’s factory, serving short-term production (and current leaders’ pocketbooks).  It treats you as a cog in the machine.  But the problem is that way is not working anymore.  We’ve been working that way for decades, and it’s not driving innovation or inclusive leadership.  The missing link is empathy, and cold, hard eggs won’t get us any closer.

The biggest irony of all about this announcement coming from Silicon Valley is that their technologies make it possible to bring home and work together again.

We will be building a more abundant world when leaders pull children closer, not push them farther away in time and space.

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[i] “The Biology of Mammalian Parenting and Its Effect on Offspring Social Development,” James K. Rilling and Larry J. Young, Science Magazine special issue:  Parenting – A Legacy that Transcends Genes, August 15, 2014, www.sciencemag.org

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12 Responses to “Why Egg Freezing Moves Us in the Wrong Direction”

  1. Jen

    This is an outstanding blog post Eva and Jackie! I must have had my head in the sand but I did not hear about this egg thing and it is CREEPY. This is not PROGRESS.

    Reply
      • kat @ kindism

        I’ve got several friends who live/work in the Bay Area, I think if these companies want to do something helpful, they should be offering better maternity/paternity leave, and on-site child care! They could be making a change and instead they’re encouraging people to put off children until they’re too old too old to keep up with them.

  2. Stephanie

    If these companies didn’t want you to have children, then why do they offer some of the best maternity AND paternity benefits you can find (inside the US). In fact, they offer them in a state that already has some of the best, if not the best, family leave available in the country? Shoot, I heard Google will even pay for your take out dinners over your leave (up to $500) and Facebook pays 17 weeks of PATERNITY leave.

    I’ve noticed living in the Bay area that people settle down later. I know several single women in their mid – late 30’s who would love to have kids but don’t want to do it on their own. What is there option? Freezing their eggs. What if they can’t afford to pay for that out of pocket? They’re S.O.L. Maybe these companies are trying to attract/keep these professionals?

    Reply
    • jackieacho

      Thanks for your thoughts Stephanie. We’re glad to have this conversation with you.

      Kat makes an important point on which we’d like to elaborate. I’ll admit that I (Jackie) was one of the women who would have opted for egg freezing. I leaned into training/career big time – PhD in chemistry from MIT, partner at McKinsey & Company by the time I was 32. Didn’t meet my husband until ~28. But for that chance meeting, I’m very sure I would not have settled down. I married him at 31. Had children at 34 and 36, and it was not easy. I would have put it all off. But here’s the problem – I am a much better professional for being a whole person. Nothing but kids would have shocked me into allocating time to important, nourishing relationships. Doing so built my empathy muscle. I recently gave a TEDx talk which explains the transition and why it’s so valuable to individuals (women and men alike) and company-wide innovation. As soon as it comes on line, I will post it.

      Valuing children and supporting their parents is a wonderful and commendable thing for organizations to do. Long maternity/paternity leaves, flexible work, shared leadership – these are all ways that support people investing in life outside of work (e.g., to care for children, aging parents, community) even as they rise in their careers. When widely admired companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook do THESE things, we can see they are supporting the people who work for them, holistically. The problem with non medical egg freezing is that it’s a high tech smoke screen for an old paradigm – one in which work and home are separated, to the detriment of both, disintegrating employees, especially the most dedicated ones. It does not build empathy, perspective, and wisdom that we desperately need more of in our leadership. This isn’t really even about women. It’s bigger than that. This is about a system that needs to change rather a short term band aid with unintended negative consequences.

      Stephanie, we appreciate your comment and welcome any additional thoughts.

      Reply
      • kat @ kindism

        There are other things to consider, like the practicality of delaying children — having a child in your 30s is reasonable, but my father became a first-time dad in his mid-50s, by the time I was in my teens, have was having serious health issues (he passed away after 10 years of serious health problems). My kids are at a school where some of the mothers have step-children the same age as me (I’m 31), and their children are the same age as mine (5 and under). There is a very sweet couple the wife is in her early 50s, the husband in his early 60s, with 6 and 3 year olds, they’re worried about saving for retirement, and they’re already having a hard time keeping up with the kids.

        Also, are these people really going to be working for facebook when it comes time to use these eggs, or is facebook just going to run them into the ground and then let them go when they hit middle-age? I’m more than a bit skeptical of facebook culture.

      • jackieacho

        Rightly so Kat. Also the egg cryopreservation techniques advocated do not have widespread long term data, so women who choose for “nonmedical” reasons to freeze 20 year old eggs and use them later might very well end up outta luck at 40-45. This policy may inadvertently create MORE infertility issues rather than solve them.

    • Eva

      Hi Stephanie. Why do you think people in the Bay area are settling down later? Just curious.

      Reply

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