Melbourne, July 14: A Monash University study into the concept of egg freezing as an employee benefit has revealed almost half of the 656 Victorian women surveyed believe it would be appropriate for employers to have it on offer.
The study was published in the paper, Employer-sponsored egg freezing: carrot or stick?, in the journal AJOB Empirical Bioethics this week and was co-authored by academics from Monash’s Faculty of Medicine and Barwon Health.
Lead author Molly Johnston from the Faculty of Arts’ Monash Bioethics Centre said employer-sponsored egg freezing was introduced in the US in 2014 via Silicon Valley corporate giants Apple and Facebook.
Since then, around one in five large US companies have followed the lead of Apple and Facebook and now offer female employees financial support to access egg freezing, with predictions Australia could follow suit.
“The study aimed to explore women’s attitudes towards employer-sponsored egg freezing to investigate whether they thought egg freezing as an employee benefit is an appropriate offer,” Johnston said.
“We found that while some women identified risks with employer-sponsored egg freezing, many see it as acceptable if offered under certain conditions – largely protections for their reproductive freedoms and assurances that it is offered alongside other family-friendly benefits that promote career building and family.”
However, while some participants saw the potential for employer-sponsored egg freezing to increase and support women’s reproductive and career options, others were concerned it could pressure women to delay childbearing, reinforce the career vs. family dichotomy and exacerbate existing inequities in access to assisted reproductive technologies.
Women aged 18-60 years who resided in Victoria were recently invited to complete an online, cross-sectional survey investigating views towards egg freezing.
The survey was completed by 656 women with the median age of 28 years, with 27 per cent single and about half either living with a partner or married.
Three-quarters of respondents were childless.
Of the participants, 27 per cent said it would be inappropriate for employers to offer sponsored egg freezing, and nearly a third (31 per cent) were unsure.
There was significantly less support for the idea among older participants and those employed part-time.
“Ultimately, egg freezing is an expensive procedure that is only partially supported through Medicare, meaning many women may not be able to access the procedure because they cannot afford the costs or they are freezing their eggs at an older age when they can afford the procedure but it is less effective and the chances of achieving a live birth are significantly reduced,” Johnston said.
“Employee-sponsored egg freezing could enable young female employees who might not be ready to have a child but would value the opportunity to do so later in life, access fertility preservation.
“Egg freezing methods have advanced greatly in recent times and the process is considered a safe option for women. With employer sponsorship benefits, there is an opportunity to help women overcome financial barriers, increase their reproductive options and reduce the pressure experienced by women to choose between having a career and having children. This may also help women access egg freezing at an age where the procedure is more effective, increasing their chances of future conception if they require their frozen eggs.
“It could be seen as a win-win for employers and employees.”
Other advocates of employer-sponsored egg freezing say it is a progressive step towards achieving gender equality in the workplace.
Conversely, some study participants were of the opinion that the financial involvement of employers in women’s reproductive lives could undermine reproductive autonomy by pressuring female employees to delay childbearing.
“Some felt there should be less emphasis on fertility preservation and more support for women to have children when they feel ready,” Johnston said.
“Participants commented that companies with better family-friendly policies and flexible working arrangements would negate the need for delayed childbearing, or raised concerns that women might be penalised in their career trajectories if they didn’t use the technology.”
Overall, Ms Johnston and her co-authors suggested that any employer-sponsored egg freezing policy adopted in Australia should promote fully informed and voluntary decision making.
“Women need to understand the benefits, risks and limitations of egg freezing, feel no pressure to take up the offer, and if they do, it shouldn’t have any negative impact on and are accompanied by other family-friendly work policies.
“As is the case for the provision of other assisted reproductive technologies, there may be a role for the State to safeguard the conditions in which employer-sponsored egg freezing is offered,” she said.
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