Women make up 57% of the US workforce in professional and related occupations, but only 26% of professionals in the computer and information field. Male domination in the education fields of engineering and computer science, coupled with a masculine business culture has compounded the challenge: tech firms wish to do a better job of appealing to the women who make up more than half of the workforce. Apple said in its diversity report this year that its workforce was 70% male, while Facebook reported its workforce was 69% male.
So it is not surprising that the most innovative firms in the world are seeking ways that will directly help them attract talented women, with Facebook and Apple offering their female staff egg freezing for later fertility treatment.
'Crosses the line'
Balancing a career and building a family is a tremendously difficult issue for women and though some may feel offering an egg freezing service for female staff crosses the line into paternalism, Facebook and Apple are acknowledging one of the fundamental issues that sees women fall out of the workplace.
Whether many women actually take up this offer is another issue and some might see it as an implicit pressure to delay children. But ultimately it will be the woman’s choice and it signals to talented female graduates looking at the technology sector that these most innovative and exciting firms are desperate for them to join them.
Tech firms are very reliant on staff knowledge
The technology sector is the most inventive and fast-paced industry to be in and firms in this sector like Google, Apple and Facebook are reliant on the knowledge of their staff.
The more brainpower they have at their disposal the more likely they will be able to produce new products and outsmart their rivals. Thus the race for talent is almost as competitive as the race for the latest microchips.
A substitute for broader pay equity?
Critics might note that while perks such as this are very impressive and eye-catching, broader pay equity might be an even stronger signal of the importance of women in the workforce.
New research by American Association of University Women shows that the gender gap in pay exists among women without children and that it grows with age. This means that women typically earn about 90% of what men are paid until they are about 35 years old and after that median earnings for women are typically 75% to 80% of what men are paid.
Ultimately however, these policies are fresh and forward thinking, and likely to benefit the employers creative enough, and bold enough, to offer them.
Facebook offers up to $20,000 (£13,000) for egg freezing for female employees, an amount that many women can only dream of if they needed such a treatment.
'Innovative HR practices'
Egg freezing is one in a long line of innovative HR practices intended to be attractive to educated people with many employment options, seeking a focus on flexibility in the difficult balance between work and life. The costs appear to be moderate, although not trivial, at about 20% of average annual salary at these firms. The benefits, in terms of attracting and retaining employees, can be expected to significantly outweigh the costs. The positive PR will pay for itself by signalling these employers' values, with respect to women's control over this important life choice, to prospective female employees.
Some may see it as a gimmick but let’s hope it does signal to women that the technology industry is serious about wanting more of them, not just in their workforce, but ultimately in their boardroom.