By Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion
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.
[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