Silicon Valley often makes headlines for their latest tech feats, questionable corporate culture (Uber’s ongoing HR crisis could be a book in itself) and their outrageously great perks (hello Google’s HQ).
One of their somewhat useful somewhat controversial perks includes offering the female workforce the opportunity to ‘freeze their eggs’ as part of an employee benefit scheme.
HR Grapevine spoke to Dr Venkat, Director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic, about the ethical implications and health benefits of the scheme.
The policy is designed to keep female talent, by helping them avoid having to choose between motherhood and professional progression. So, is this an option that companies should be offering or should we be working towards providing employees a better work-life balance to enable women to work and pursue family dreams?
There is no denying that the age in which women are having their first baby has and continues to rise due to a variety of reasons, including the pursuing of careers, educational opportunities, as well as the high cost of housing, university debts and other complex social issues.
However, the harsh reality is that both women and men’s fertility starts to decline in their early 30s. Later in life, it can take a longer to conceive and there is a greater risk of complications during both pregnancy and labour with age. Achieving a natural pregnancy after 40 years of age is a challenge for many women, miscarriage rates are 50% and rise quickly with each advancing year.
If parenthood isn’t an option until a person’s late 30s, or early 40s, then egg or sperm freezing will help to increase the chance of you having your own ‘genetic’ child at a later stage in life. Many patients of mine are devastated to hear that their only chance of having a child could be by using an egg from a younger ‘healthier donor’.
I believe we should be doing more as a society to support women to have children earlier – combining both career with motherhood. Better maternity pay, rights and improving access to affordable childcare, not to mention flexible working, would go a long way in helping to curb this trend and keep talented women in the workplace.
However, offering egg freezing as an employee benefit does give women increased choice and crucially raises the debate and awareness of the ‘fertility clock’. More than anything, both men and women need to understand that fertility isn’t an issue that can be put to the back of their mind, and having regular fertility checks is as important as attending other health screenings.
Finally, employers should also remember that fertility struggles are not simply a woman’s issue – in fact men are found to be solely responsible for 20-30% of infertility cases and contribute to 50% of cases overall. Raising awareness of fertility health is an important issue for all employees – employers would be wise to recognise this.