WHEN APPLE and Facebook began paying for employees to freeze their eggs in 2014, this generosity was met with cynicism. Critics dismissed it as another attempt at social engineering from Silicon Valley, no bastion of female-friendliness. Rather than empowering women, they feared, it would press them to delay motherhood; Apple would do better to install child-care facilities at its brand new headquarters.
Such gripes have not stopped employers from embracing such schemes. Quite the opposite. More than one in four large American companies now pay for some fertility treatment, according to consultants at Mercer; one in 20 covers egg-freezing. In America Bain, a consultancy, KKR, a private-equity firm, and Tesla, a carmaker, pay for unlimited IVF cycles (which can cost $100,000), according to Fertility IQ, an educational site for fertility patients. This week Starbucks said it would raise its fertility cover to $25,000, including for baristas who work over 20 hours a week for more than six months. For part-timers on $12 an hour that can add up to twice their annual salary.
Most American states still do not require insurers to cover infertility treatment. So companies use the benefits to differentiate themselves. This helps recruit and retain staff, says Jake Anderson-Bialis of Fertility IQ. It found that 62% of workers whose employer had paid in full for IVF said they were more likely to stay in their job. Firms keen to promote “diversity and inclusion” see health plans with IVF or surrogacy as a way to attract LGBT employees.
Some companies insist that workers try the natural way for a year before they qualify for treatment (to the exclusion of anyone who isn’t a heterosexual in a stable relationship). Others appear to adopt fertility benefits in response to harassment scandals. Under Armour, Uber and Vice added family-friendly policies, including generous fertility perks, following such controversies.
A lot of this is welcome. But advocates of gender equality are right to point out that some benefits—egg-freezing in particular—look like a distraction. And it is no substitute for eliminating the motherhood-penalty in the workplace.■
This post was originally posted at https://www.economist.com/business/2019/08/08/more-employers-want-to-help-workers-make-babies.