When trying to recruit more women, it has become trendy for companies to offer to cover the cost of egg freezing as a benefit. The rationale: Freeze your eggs so you can focus on building a successful career without having to worry about children.
One such company is Facebook and, as an article in Vice observes, the idea is meant to be empowering, a “message [that] dovetails with the argument that Sandberg helped shape, at Facebook and beyond, five years ago: that egg freezing gives women real agency rather than the illusion of it.” However, a former employee wrote that she found the company’s approach to offering this benefit “paternalistic,” saying that she felt pressured to freeze her eggs while working long hours: “All I had to do was devote myself to work and everything else would be magically taken care of.”
In an article for Bloomberg Law, attorney Lauren Geisser asks whether the popularity of egg freezing benefits will “result in our society accepting the male-oriented workplace where motherhood is incompatible with work and should thus be delayed.” It’s an important point to consider, especially as Catholics look to make our society more supportive of families.
Furthermore, there is no mandated paid maternity leave in the United States and, for women at companies with fewer than 50 employees, there isn’t even mandated unpaid maternity leave. According to a 2019 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), only 25% of employers offer paid parental leave “to at least some employees” and only 35% of Americans work at companies that offer paid parental leave. In addition, many companies have fostered an environment that is unsupportive at best and punitive at worst to working mothers — a reality that the COVID-19 pandemic has put in sharp focus, as almost 2.4 million women left the workforce between February 2020 and February 2021, compared with fewer than 1.8 million men.
In this context, we can see how offering egg freezing as a “benefit” to working women might be a cop-out for an employer: It’s more appealing to have a childless woman working over 40 hours per week than to have a woman leave for weeks at a time after having a baby, and then manage the demands of motherhood with the demands of her job.
In his 1995 “Letter to Women,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “a greater presence of women in society […] will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love.’” Whether overtly or subtly, viewing fertility as an obstacle to a woman’s career is a prime example of organizing society according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity. We might ask ourselves what these companies are really saying when they offer egg freezing as a benefit.