Let’s cut through the public relations and be clear: Tech companies’ policy of paying to freeze women’s eggs is not primarily about supporting women and families. It’s about industry image, an image that has taken many hits for being less than female-friendly. But to Americans not employed by Silicon Valley, it appears we have another hydra of practical inequality raising its many heads, in a deeply economic way.
It’s hard to see this beast in the corner because if you follow most of the news coverage about Facebook and Apple paying for employees to freeze their eggs, what you hear mostly is the bemoaning of female careerism, or that the real corporate goal of these perks is to enable female workers to delay motherhood as long as possible. (Think you want to make a baby? No! You want to continue making stuff for us. Evil cackle.)
Many women see through that chatter. My own drive to hold off on parenthood (along with my financial plans for adopting or going with a sperm donor if I didn’t get married by 35) had much less to do with my raging ambition and much more to do with the practical matter of not wanting to pay and care for wee ones by myself.
The myth that women are waiting for the corner office before having children, and not for the right relationship, is not true. And frankly, once she has achieved that corner office, would the same woman who supposedly delayed motherhood to get there, now give (the office) up? – Melanie Notkin, author of Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness
Bigger than myth-busting, what’s sincerely missing from the limp olive branch being offered to working mothers is that what truly helps families, particularly mothers, to juggle a career and parenting is childcare.
First, let’s give Facebook and some of their cohorts kudos for offering paid maternity and paternity leave. Brilliant and rare. May many more follow your lead. However, once the human being is created and starts babbling, what happens to the human trying to get back to work?
Potential parenting vs. actual parenting
For most mothers, getting back into the grind means paying someone else to take care of your kid(s). And despite the fact that it’s such a common and necessary need (40 percent or more of working families leave their young children with someone other than family during the workday), childcare tragedies, particularly in 2013, threw some much-needed light on the scary, under-regulated business of strangers taking care of our babies. The practice is a real mess.
In my years of covering money and parenting, I’ve had to advise many on the ugly math of deciding whether it’s worthwhile to go back to work. Financially, what’s the point, if all you earn just goes into childcare anyway? (It’s usually worth it, as your skills and contacts are kept up-to-date—and dammit, sometimes working makes you happy and keeps you sane.)
Granted, these tech employees can probably afford amazing childcare—a bill on par with private school tuition in several states—but subsidizing the practice of potential parenting rather than the practice of actual parenting is a much broader commentary on where we’re at when it comes to supporting working mothers in this country.
On a large scale, let’s take one of the biggest, most successful nonprofits for women in the workplace, Dress for Success. Aiding over 70,000 women a year, the organization has grown from suiting up women for job interviews to professional coaching, mentoring and financial education (full disclosure: I’m a supporter and original advisor on this program). Many mothers in the programs—who are unemployed or underemployed, in debt and on assistance—within months land full-time jobs with benefits; they’re able to climb out of debt and even save money for the first time in their lives. How amazing, right?
Then their children get sick. And they can’t make it to work. Many are single mothers with little family and few friends to lean on. And what about when school is out—randomly at times, for teacher development—and there’s no one to care for your kindergartener? What happens many times is that moms get fired. Childcare is the missing ingredient that Dress for Success can’t yet provide yet, though the organization advocates with employers.
All the women’s hard work, all that momentum getting that job and getting on their financial feet—and taking care of their little person can mean ‘go back to start’ or, even worse, a fall even further down for a whole family.
So tell us, Facebook, if you can offer doggie daycare and spa treatments, and you really want women to ‘lean in,’ where is the childcare?
Maybe it’s because biotech is sexy and eggs aren’t really babies yet, they’re just science—no smelly diapers to change or vaccination appointments. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper (at $20,000) than subsidizing on-site childcare for all. But the duty and commitment of actual motherhood may just not be ‘fast company’ enough for P.R. departments, even though—like supplying on-site meals, sleep pods, and massages—childcare would result in even better employee capture and better lives for working families.
Credit, Flickr: © (CC by-nc-nd) Maurizio De Angelis/Wellcome Images
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