By Julia Love and Heather Somerville San Jose Mercury News.
Facing calls to diversify their largely white and male ranks, Facebook and Apple are offering their female employees a new perk: freezing their eggs.
The companies' new policies, revealed Tuesday, put them among a handful of employers in the country known to offer the expensive benefit -- Google is said to be one of the others -- and come as Silicon Valley firms wage what some have called a "perks arms race" to lure top talent.
The move, praised by advocates for women, also highlights the steps these companies are taking to address the gender imbalance in their workforces. Women account for less than a third of employees at Apple and Facebook, according to diversity statistics released earlier this year.
"It shows they're thinking about issues that are of concern to women and they're willing to put their money where their mouth is," said Patricia Gillette, a partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe who co-chairs the San Francisco Bar Association's No Glass Ceiling Initiative, which seeks to promote women leadership in the law.
NBC News, which first reported the news, said Apple and Facebook appeared to be the first major companies to cover the procedure for nonmedical reasons.
Google also offers the coverage to employees, according to fertility doctors in the Bay Area. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Egg freezing is generally an outpatient procedure that women undergo after having fertility drug injections, designed to give them a better chance of a successful pregnancy later in their lives.
Tech workers at many companies have seen their benefits packages sweeten in recent years. Both Apple and Facebook already offered perks such as generous maternity leave and other treatment for infertility.
"You've got an incredibly competitive environment in the valley for people," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and Chief Analyst of TECHnalysis Research. "Companies are going to try, within reason, to offer as much as they possibly can."
Both Apple and Facebook will cover egg-freezing costs of up to $20,000, according to NBC News. Facebook began covering the costs in January. Apple will start covering the costs next year.
"We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families," an Apple spokeswoman said in a statement.
Medical professionals and women's health experts are cheering the expansion of procedures that are prohibitively expensive for many women.
"If women are going to have more choices, they should have more coverage," said Collin Smikle, the medical director at Laurel Fertility Care in San Francisco.
Since the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed egg freezing from its list of experimental treatments, billing it as a safe procedure for preserving a woman's fertility, the treatment has jumped in popularity, particularly among women who are in their 30s but want to delay having a family.
Bay Area fertility clinics have felt the surge. From 2011 to 2013, the Pacific Fertility Center saw a 277 percent increase in cases, while the Reproductive Science Center in San Ramon says cases have tripled since 2012, the Bay Area News Group reported earlier this year.
Though Apple and Facebook appear to be on the cutting edge in the Valley, some financial institutions in New York already offer egg-freezing coverage.
But some worry women in tech may feel pressured to put off motherhood, said I. Glenn Cohen, faculty director of the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard University.
"There's a real concern that they are sending a message to women that if you want to succeed here, we expect you to delay your pregnancy and work on your career," he said. "This flies in the face of 50 years of employment law aimed and making work and pregnancy compatible."
Egg freezing can cost from $8,000 to $15,000, experts say, and storing the eggs is an additional $500 to $1,000 per year. On top of that, the medicine women are required to take to produce more eggs can run $2,000 to $4,000.
While women working for a handful of tech companies and banks can pass the bill to their employer, experts say the cost of the procedure is still out of reach for many women.
"As wonderful as it is that these companies offer it, they are two companies that tend to pay well and have good benefits,"
Tipton said. "I'll be waiting to hear Walmart's announcement that they're are going to cover it."