There isn’t much that people still admire about communist East Germany. But one of those things is the now defunct state’s system of all-day childcare. Citizens of the “first workers’ and farmers’ state on German soil” were neither able to make a free choice between genuine political alternatives in elections, nor consume media critical of Communist party rule. In contrast to democratic West Germany, however, the East did have a concentrated network of kindergartens and all-day schools that guaranteed professionally ambitious parents peace of mind when it came to their offspring.
Even those who otherwise detested East Germany as much as the devil hates holy water concede that women with children had better career opportunities than in the West. And no one over accused the Communist regime in East Berlin of setting up all-day childcare system as a manipulative ploy to get the female population to have children and still remain in work.
So what’s the problem when US companies such as Apple or Facebook offer to cover the cost of egg freezing the egg cells of female employees? Facebook also offers the same sum to workers who have conventional deliveries, as well as paying four months’ parental leave, and Apple picks up the tab for adoption procedures.
People may have ethical objections to egg freezing or doubt that women who choose to do so can really get pregnant after the age of 40. But it can be equally difficult to conceive after decades of contraception with the help of hormone pills or a history of abortions – family planning methods chosen by those concerned without the support of their employer.
Whether or not to have children is – biology permitting – an individual decision. And yes, for reasons of time economy, those looking to spend a large amount of that time at home raising their brood may not progress along the career path as fast as colleagues devoting their entire time budget to the workplace. (That applies to male staff, too – dads also need time for their children if they want to fulfill their social contract!) If companies take this into consideration and present their employees with a range of options to help them combine parenthood and career, this can certainly be perceived as socially-minded.
In contrast to the offer being made to female staff by US companies like Apple and Facebook, a move that others will hopefully soon follow, the position taken by the German employers association, the BDA, is nothing short of scandalous. Not only do they have no plans to support the practice of egg freezing, they also proudly issued the following blanket declaration: “German employers don’t get involved in the family planning of their employees.”
This is true: These days, there aren’t many German companies that would think of providing all-day childcare for their staff. Parental leave in Germany includes several models, from three months to three years, available to both mothers and fathers. However, it was not a business community initiative but was introduced by policymakers.
The decision to have children is individual and personal. An employer who not only supports that decision but also materially supports it, must surely count as progressive.