Apple and Facebook have acknowledged that they are offering their employees in the USA egg cryopreservation services for non-medical reasons in a move that has divided public opinion.
The perk is currently available to Facebook employees as part of its host of other fertility services, reports NBC News, and Apple says it plans to introduce the offer from January. However, while some see the benefit as empowering women in the workplace, others have voiced concern over employers putting pressure on their female employees to delay parenthood.
'We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cryopreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatment,' Apple said in a statement.
'We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.' Both companies are offering up to US$20,000 for egg cryopreservation covered by their insurance plans to include egg retrieval and storage, reports BBC News.
The companies hope to retain and attract females in top positions by giving them the option of delaying starting a family and adopting a culture that is attractive to young people. The Telegraph reports that Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is a campaigner for gender equality in the work place, and Apple has recently appointed Denise Young Smith as head of human resources, who is making a big push for diversity and inclusion at the company, says The Guardian. It reports that Young Smith has asked Apple's employees what kind of benefits they care most about. Other benefits on offer include longer parental leave, reimbursing education costs and student loan refinancing.
Jennifer Tye, head of marketing for Glow, a company offering women services to 'take control of their reproductive health', told BBC News that 'egg freezing gives women more control'.
'When I turned 30, I had this notion that my biological clock was ticking, but I didn't know what my options were,' she said. 'These employers should be commended.'
Kellye Sheehan, of Women in Technology, USA, was more cautious about the news. 'This is a nice perk but of course it's a very personal decision for every working woman,' she told USA Today. 'You can't let your employer force you into something that doesn't fit your values or personal choices.'
Although the use of cryopreserved eggs in treatment is a relatively new development, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority states that the success rate following egg storage is lower than for embryo storage. While experts disagree on the chances of conception using cryopreserved eggs, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted the 'experimental' label from vitrification techniques in 2012 (see BioNews 681), saying that it led to acceptable pregnancy rates.
However, Dr John Waterstone, medical director at the Cork Fertility Centre, highlighted the risks associated with the egg storage policies. 'Offering to pay for egg freezing is almost encouraging women to delay having babies even further,' he told the Irish Examiner. 'Egg freezing is not a perfect science and there is a big chance the eggs won't work.'
He suggested that a more 'responsible approach' would be for employers to allow female employees more time off to have kids younger and adopting more 'family-friendly policies'.
The Daily Mail reports that Apple has no plans to extend the policy to the UK.