As the male boss of a tech company I found myself feeling quite uncomfortable about Apple and Facebook's offer to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs. At one level you could argue it's about individual choice but my gut tells me that this is part of the very male-orientated thinking that dominates tech companies. I believe we should not see having children as an impediment to having a career. We should be pushing for tech companies to encourage women to join and then support them when and if they want to have children. They should be fully supported and have their positions held open. We should be encouraging greater flexitime and social hours.
A new study by Catalyst finds that women with tech degrees are shunning the industry. Lower pay and the number of entry-level roles are partly responsible for 53% of women leaving the industry after their first post-MBA job. They surveyed nearly 6,000 M.B.A. graduates working at companies around the world between 2007 and 2014.
In the report, women highlighted several reasons why they were not interested in technology-based companies. The NYT highlighted on stat: 'Nearly three-quarters of the women said they felt like "outsiders" at technology companies, compared to just 17 percent of the men surveyed'.
So let's look at the workplace situation again, back to the debate of why tech is so male dominated - here are some of the reasons why:
1) the 'brogrammer culture' - puts off women and makes them feel like outsiders
2) lack of flexibility - the culture of long hours
3) institutional sexism in STEM? - men getting promoted ahead of women
4) Lack of mentors - not enough support by senior male managers and not enough women
What can we do?
Finland is a country we should be looking to. Women's employment rate is among the highest in Europe, free access to public day care facilities is guaranteed to all children under seven. Both parents get a chance to care for their kids. The maternity leave of 18 weeks, parental leave of 26 weeks and the paternity leave of 9 weeks will cover roughly the first year of a child's life. (http://europa.eu/epic/countries/finland/index_en.htm) This seems completely progressive and would be a good way to encourage and support women -especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) arena.
I'm reminded of the level of debate that followed Marissa Mayer at CEO of Yahoo and her pregnancy. Do you remember the statement she issued at the time: "My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I'll work throughout it." She should not have had to issue such a statement and so much for leaning in if that's the flack you get. She should be supported regardless of the decision she makes. But it showed me how entrenched this issue was and actually how difficult it is to be a woman - especially in the tech world. This latest discussion about freezing eggs is part of that discourse.
We shouldn't have to make reproduction a commodity. Let's give women more choice by changing workplace situations so women don't feel under pressure to freeze their eggs.
This whole debate reminds me of the quote by the American psychologist BF Skinner: "The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do."