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Freezing female employees eggs: What does this say about age norms in Silicon Valley?

by on October 20, 2014

We couldn’t not cover this story which has received considerable press coverage and extensive online reader comments.

Last week it was reported (for example, as here in The Telegraph) that Apple and Facebook, two of the American tech giants, will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs as another ‘work perk’. The rationale is said to be that women can then continue to work through their twenties and thirties without stopping for a few months to have a child and so inevitably fall behind their male counterparts.

Now, we have blogged several times before on the gendered and age norms of Silicon Valley companies whose staff profiles suggest that men are favoured over women (as mentioned here in The Independent) and youth over older age (as here in The New Statesman). This announcement however has caused many commentators to unpack some of the implicit assumptions behind such a move. These include:

  • that women need to be treated differently from men;
  • that delaying children is professional beneficial for women (but not men) because young adulthood is only time which counts in getting ahead in an IT/tech career;
  • that it marks a rather sinister interest in women’s bodies by their employers; and
  • that the decision to have children can be put off  until female employees are too old to be of any use (at which point their gender is irrelevant).

One reader comment here in The Guardian put the alternative: Why not ‘let women have children when they want them – without it harming their careers? If they really cared that much, they’d make their companies sufficiently flexible to welcome back talented women… and not make them feel pressured to devote everything to their careers and freeze their eggs’. And why not make it so that jobs and career advancement are not only linked to performance in young adulthood?

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