Tech giant Apple made headlines last week for, like its Silicon Valley buddy Facebook, offering to cover the costs of female employees’ freezing their eggs, up to $20,000, for non-medical reasons.
While both companies frame the perk as part of their support of fertility, family, and parenthood (both Facebook and Apple reportedly have very generous coverage of fertility treatments, adoption support, and surrogacy support), it’s clear that this program also complements their ongoing effort to recruit more young women into tech. After a number of tech companies released their dismal diversity numbers earlier this year, there is a renewed cultural focus on encouraging young women to pursue an education in math and science that will lead to a high-paying position in tech.
Not surprisingly, there’s some amount of skepticism about employer-sponsored egg freezing. Sarah Buhr of TechCrunch rightly points out that while paying for egg freezing demonstrates the companies’ commitment to letting women create the life and career of their choice, it ignores a number of underlying problems for working women:
They still earn 82 percent of what men typically earn, childless or not. Further, most workplaces in the U.S. don’t give women ample time to recover from childbirth or accommodate in ways that would make it easier for them to juggle both children and work.
I applaud Apple and Facebook for getting serious about supporting women through these policies, but their efforts are, sadly, anomalies. American companies are far behind our European counterparts in supporting working families, and these types of lavish health benefits won’t keep hiring managers from low-balling women’s salaries. Not to mention that most companies, even those that want to increase the number of women on staff, simply can’t afford these expensive benefits.
If we want to increase the number of women in tech—and in other industries—in the long term, we need to make sure that companies of every size, from startups in their first round of fundraising to public companies making a killing for their shareholders, enact policies to support women and working parents.
There are a number of investments that even cash-strapped startups can make to attract and retain talented women. Here are just a few.
1. Offer Truly Flexible Schedules
Many employers offer flexible schedules that turn out to be, well, not so flexible. Flexibility goes beyond letting someone work from 10 to 6 instead of 9 to 5: It requires allowing employees to adjust their schedules, without penalty, for whatever life throws at them—sick children, sick parents, school plays, whatever—as long as they are producing results. The benefit? A workplace that focuses on performance, not hours at the desk, makes employees feel more valued and satisfied with their employer: 86% of companies on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2014 offer some type of flexible schedule.
2. Put Women in Leadership Positions
Entry and mid-level women need to see their career paths within a company, and if men dominate the C-suite, women are less likely to believe climbing the corporate ladder is a worthwhile endeavor. It’s well documented that diverse leadership teams are more successful, so companies that are serious about growing their business and recruiting talented women must ensure that their leadership team includes strong female leaders.
3. Offer Paternity Leave
Reputation—being known as a company that promotes gender equality—will go a long way in attracting top female talent. And offering a generous paternity leave policy is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate a commitment to women and working families. While paternity leave is designed for men, it ultimately benefits working mothers and children. Furthermore, since most states don’t require it by law, implementing paternity leave shows that an employer is willing to go above and beyond to promote equality and inclusion.
4. Be Vigilant About Excising Sexism from the Workplace
Obviously, attracting talented young women requires creating a workplace in which women and men are treated equally. Sure, most companies have documented policies against discrimination and sexual harassment, but creating a culture that truly embraces equality means more than airing a few informative videos about discrimination. Leadership and management must excise sexism in all forms from the workplace. This means educating employees about unconscious biases (a step Google is already taking) and benevolent sexism—and their maladaptive consequences.
5. Empower Female Employees to Shape Company Culture
Startup land has become famous for offering a fraternity-like atmosphere: free beer, video games, and personalized hoodies. While it’s not fair to say women don’t like these perks (I’ll take a free craft beer and a game of Skee-Ball any day), tech companies should include women on the teams that are shaping company culture. Expanding the activities beyond those evoking college dorm rooms will help attract talented women who don’t feel connected to those traditions.
Finally, it should go without saying that the best way to attract female talent is to offer competitive wages and excellent benefits that will support them in their life choices—regardless of if they decide to have children or not. While the grand gesture of Facebook and Apple will surely help their recruitment efforts, our corporate culture as a whole needs to focus on making small, but important, everyday changes—and sticking with them.