I knew the look the minute I walked in the door and she asked to speak with me right away. The tension and urgency could only mean one thing: My valued marketing director must have been lured to another job. My stomach flipped.
Her stomach had been flipping all night long -- and, as it turns out, not because she was going to resign. With a shaky voice she told me her news. She was going to have a baby.
A baby? This was what she had been terrified to discuss?
Nervously, she continued her rehearsed narrative. She didn't want me to think she'd planned on it, so close to having started her new job with me. It had happened unexpectedly.
We both left the room in better shape: She was staying (a relief for me), and she was congratulated and supported (a relief for her).
I thought all day about how common those nerves are when most women unveil pregnancy news at the office.
But why? Why do so many women feel anxious before telling their manager that they are going to become mothers? Do men feel that way when announcing their impending fatherhood?
And now we have Apple and Facebook offering a "generous" new perk: the willingness to pay to freeze eggs for female employees.
To be sure, for some women this can be empowering. An enthusiastic career woman might happily choose to continue working through prime childbearing years, grateful for the financial support for delaying motherhood. (The fact that the egg-freezing process is reportedly less than 50 percent reliable is another matter entirely.)
But, overall, what message are these companies sending young women? That they *could* have waited? That biotechnology, in its endless wonder, now makes it possible to squeeze out a few more years of loyal work before bringing a tiny new person into this world? That quite possibly the most magical experience some people will ever have can be scheduled further into the future, all in the name of the freedom to work harder and longer?
What's the alternative? At my company, Elance-oDesk, where we believe the way to empower women -- as well as men -- is to provide the technology for flexible, from-anywhere work, I faced a dilemma with a young rising star on my team. She is relentlessly hardworking and eager to do well.
I broached the delicate topic feeling a little bumbling. "Kristy," I said (not her real name) "there's something I've been meaning to discuss with you." She looked nervous. I felt nervous. This did not feel like a normal thing to say. Finally I came out with it.
"Kristy, if that day comes when you decide to have a child, I want to be sure you skip the part about getting nervous to tell me. Know in advance that we'll be as supportive and happy for you as we are for the men here who've become fathers."
Kristy looked like I had just handed her the moon. She did want to start a family, she said. And this was another reason she would not leave our company, she added.
I know that when that day dawns -- and when Kristy and others like her choose to become mothers -- we may temporarily lose them to the the incomparable and impossible-to-anticipate experience of falling in love with their children, and being forever altered by their arrival on this earth.
But I also know in my bones that it is good for women and good for business to celebrate life's natural stages.
Corporate support for egg freezing, in order to delay childbearing, could provoke the very anxiety it was intended to alleviate.