Home » Employee Wellbeing » Why do conversations around fertility matter at work?

Becky Kearns

Co-Founder, Fertility Matters at Work

Over recent years there has been a much-needed focus on organisations being family friendly. More recently, the focus on women’s health has now extended to the impact of menopause in the workplace.

Supportive policies, entitlements and rights for working parents have been making headway in beginning to address the gender pay-gap and challenges affecting women in the workplace. However, there is still strikingly little support or conversation around pre-conception, especially for those struggling to bring home a baby in the first place.

Many believe that conversations around fertility are private and wholly linked to one’s personal life, yet where treatment is necessary the effects inevitably can seep into the workplace, even though many try to keep it from doing so. Frequent, unpredictable scans and blood-tests, physical side-effects from hormones and invasive procedures, financial strain when NHS funding isn’t available and significant impact to mental health are a reality for many at work.

It is more common than you may think

Since my own challenging path to parenthood, I’ve found that the silence on this issue during my time in HR certainly wasn’t because I was the only person to experience it. It stemmed from the stigma and taboo surrounding the topic, a lack of recognition within organisations and the many fears held by individuals facing this. To shine a light on this issue and educate organisations I joined forces with two other women, each with their own personal fertility experience, to form Fertility Matters at Work, a community interest company on a mission to drive change.

Infertility is classed by the World Health Organization as a disease and the need for treatment is a reality for as many as one in seven individuals and one in six couples in the UK, all of working age. It’s not just an issue for those (like me) facing an infertility diagnosis, but also those experiencing recurrent miscarriage, embarking on solo parenthood and anyone wanting to build a family in the LGBTQ+ community.

Everyone has the right to build a family, no matter who they are, where they live, or who they love.

Why it’s an issue for the workplace

Most employers don’t even know the true extent of the problem due to many employees not feeling comfortable to disclose the fact they’re going through assisted reproduction. As many as 69.5% of staff take sick leave during treatment. In 2020, following the first lockdown our poll found that the pandemic had actually helped as many as 83% in managing fertility treatment alongside work, anecdotally because appointments were “easier to hide”.

Fear of impact on career

Feeling uncomfortable sharing this life-event with employers is common as many fear it might result in ‘career suicide’, one of the over-arching reasons for the silence on this topic. One woman told us, “I was worried I wouldn’t be considered for the next promotion if they knew,” with the fear that discriminatory assumptions would be made simply by revealing that they’re actively trying for a baby.

When it comes to emotional wellbeing during fertility treatment over two thirds are struggling, with more than 68% saying the experience had a significant impact on their mental health. Shockingly for talent retention, as many as 36% even considered leaving their role due to the strain. This struggle is only exacerbated by a lack of recognition in policy, guidance and support within workplaces – something we’re determined to change through our awareness, training and policy support.

We’re delighted to be supporting Ferring Pharmaceuticals, whose pioneering family-building support package includes important education and targeted initiatives to ensure their people are informed and supportive to those trying to conceive. With a belief that aligns with ours at Fertility Matters at Work: “Everyone has the right to build a family, no matter who they are, where they live, or who they love.”

Our hope is that more organisations will follow suit and broaden their own family friendly provisions, truly supporting people to bring their whole self to work, regardless of where they are on their family building journey.

What’s happening in the workplace

72% said their employer did not have a fertility policy in place 
Of those who did, only 1.7% had a fertility policy that met their needs 
69.5% took sick leave during treatment 
Over 36% considered leaving their job*

*Stats taken from Fertility Matters At Work’s 2020 survey.

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