You can earn money whenever you want but you can't own a family whenever you want !
Back in the day when legal talent was as scarce and valuable as tech skills are today, law students routinely warned one another to beware the office with the showers. We knew they weren't there for our own good. They were there because the firm didn't want us to go home.
Today's high-end tech and STEM employers don't just want your evening hours, they want your fertility. As the Times notes this morning in The Downsides of Generous Workplace Perks,
These benefits are not being offered out of largess. It’s done because organizations want employees to work 24/7. If you never have to leave to get your dry cleaning, to go to the gym, to eat or even go to bed, you can work all the time. They’re golden handcuffs.
Should You Sell Your Fertility to Apple or Facebook?
As any professional woman with time to pay attention to something other than balancing work and family life already knows, Facebook today and Apple in January, have added the cost of freezing your future children to the perks arms war. We're not talking about free personal trainers, dry-cleaning concierges or gourmet in-office meals anymore. We're talking about work's intrusion into your reproductive life.
There are so many levels of wrong in this that I barely know where to begin.
Let's start with there being nothing family-friendly about a workplace that offers women the "opportunity" to defer child-bearing and -rearing until some hazy later time when it will presumably be more "convenient" to have children. Let this be known to young women. From your employer's point of view, it is never convenient for you to have children. From your employer's point of view, it would be most profitable to squeeze out of you the years during which everyone, men and women, work for the lowest pay they will ever command with the least degree of control and power they will ever possess.
From My Generation to Yours
When I was a young whippersnapper in the law, the few (very few) women who preceded me told me that I "couldn't" have children until I'd made partner. Since these were women professionals' pre-Pleistocene years, employers weren't offering a remedy for life happening in the meantime. Like years-to-partnership expanding from seven to ten. Like, um, divorce you idiot! Like your perceived value plummeting the moment you had children (the gap now sitting at 14% between women with children and childless women in the workplace).
"They won't believe you're truly dedicated and loyal or serious about your career," I was told, "if you just up and get pregnant before you've made partner." What followed was an entire generation of women (mine) who were forced to choose the "career track" or the "mommy track." For those of us who chose the "career track," hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, suffered years, and sometimes more than a decade, of fertility treatment which, if followed by pregnancy at forty, usually meant three to six months of bed rest.
This is the ghost of Christmas Future
It's never the right time for a professional woman to start a family. But if you're going to do it, do it when you're most likely to easily become pregnant and easily carry that pregnancy to term.
I guarantee you that your financial needs will not decrease as you age. They will increase. And few are the employers who will happily pay you for three to six months of bed rest at 35, 40 or 45. One of my colleagues, after ten years of failed fertility treatments, finally managed to conceive and bear a child at 50. I kid you not. Twins. And she's the happiest she's ever been, having effectively bifurcated her life into 25 years of career, followed by a decade of retirement with children.
What Employers Owe Their Valuable Female Human Resources
Your employer owes you the same kind of life it offers your male colleagues who oh so conveniently never get pregnant. They do, however, have families. And it's never been problematic for men to have children. In fact, men's financial well-being increases when they have children at the same time that their child-bearing and -rearing female colleagues' wages precipitously decrease. At the same time as highly praised women suddenly find themselves, as new mothers, burdened with negative subjective reviews questioning their dedication, loyalty and ability to concentrate. As if we still haven't figured out how to use our brain and our uterus as the same time. .
In a knowledge economy, we no longer make our employers money by the time it takes us to think up a new product or craft a strategic plan for the next acquisition or merger. Knowledge workers sell their skill, their training, their intellectual property, not the number of hours they sit in an office. What we need, what we deserve, is a new metric for measuring the value of our labor. As one proponent of value-pricing said in a recent interview with me, "measuring the value of legal work by the time it takes to produce it is like putting a ruler in an oven to see what the temperature is."
I don't tend to see the dystopian, insidious side of things but an employer's offer to underwrite women's delaying child birth puts several exclamation marks at the end of the advice given me not to conceive until I made partner. If you don't accept this generous offer and have your children in your late twenties or early thirties (as evolution or God planned you to do) will your loyalty be questioned, your value discounted, your life – and that of your family – commodified?
From this end of a long childless woman's business and legal career, all I can do is say, resist.
Beware the Employer Who Wants Your Fertility
Credit: Victoria Pynchon. She is an author, keynote speaker, consultant and trainer at She Negotiates Consulting and Training, which she founded with her business partner, Lisa Gates, in 2010.
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