One in five workers who have undergone fertility treatment quit their job because of the way they were treated during the process, new research has revealed.
With 3.5 million people in the UK affected by infertility, Totaljobs, in partnership with the Fawcett Society, has conducted a new study to explore how employers can better support women’s careers and create a fertility-friendly workplace.
The research, which surveyed 2,000 people in the UK who have undergone fertility treatment in the past five years, found that a further third had considered leaving their place of work due to how they were treated by their employer during this time.
The challenges of navigating fertility treatment
The study uncovered the numerous challenges facing those navigating fertility issues at work. One in six said that their mental health had been impacted during this time. The research also found that women were more likely to be impacted than men, with 15% of women reporting the negative impact on their emotional wellbeing, compared to 12% of men. The figures increase to 24% of women on low-incomes and single women.
Over two-fifths of workers who have gone through fertility treatment in the last five years have found it difficult to juggle treatment alongside work commitments. A further 42% said that undergoing fertility treatment temporarily slowed down their professional development.
These challenges are also compounded by lack of support at work, with 43% stating they had faced negative comments and attitudes from fellow colleagues. 11% went as far as to say that their fertility treatments have had a negative impact on relationships with their colleagues.
Stigma and a lack of awareness remain high
The study indicates a high level of stigma when it comes to fertility issues. 59% of those surveyed hadn’t told a manager about their treatment, and over two-thirds didn’t tell HR. This is in spite of the fact that an overwhelming majority (92%) have had to take time off from work due to treatment – 39% of which has been logged as sick leave, and 23% as unpaid leave.
Benefits of creating a fertility-inclusive workplace
Research among the broader UK workforce has found that creating a more fertility-inclusive culture does carry significant benefits for an organisation.
60% of UK adults stated that fertility benefits make an employer more attractive. This figure rises to 66% of women, and 70% of those aged 18-34. By highlighting their support in this area, employers can send the right signals to candidates looking for workplaces with the right values and culture.
Employers are taking action, but still face hurdles
The benefits of fertility inclusivity are evident, and indeed recognised by HR leaders. A quarter reported that posting fertility-friendly benefits like ‘flexible working’ on jobs ads can reach a wider pool of talent and give a competitive advantage.
However, while 4 in 5 stated that they offer some form of fertility support, only 40% have specific policies in place to support this.
Over three-quarters say they’ve encountered challenges trying to implement fertility support in the workplace, including; limited awareness across the business; limited resourcing or a lack of leadership buy-in.
Employees demand more support and an end to stigma
Limited awareness is the number one cause behind a lack of business progress in this area, which in turn impacts those going through the fertility treatment journey.
The research found that the top three reasons people kept their fertility treatment a secret were it felt too personal; concern for it not working out; and fear of being judged or misunderstood by colleagues and their superiors.
That’s why nearly a third call for open conversations around fertility treatment and employee-led peer support networks to remove stigma and secrecy around the fertility journeys. As many as 83% went as far as to say that it’s important for workplaces to give the same support to those trying to have a baby as they do those who are expecting or already have a child.
The study shows that women are more likely than men to claim that it’s important for workplaces to facilitate open and safe conversations around fertility. At present, the research found that men find it easier to access materials on the fertility support available to them at work than their female colleagues.
Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society comments on the findings: At the Fawcett Society, we believe in workplaces that work for all women, at every stage of our careers and lives. This report shows unequivocally that women, and especially minoritised women, feel the impact of fertility treatment on their ability to progress at work, but that supportive workplaces can make a huge difference in ensuring that women don’t need to choose between their job and their desire for children. Creating an environment which supports workers going through fertility treatment will result in happier staff, better retention, and better progression of talented women, all of which ultimately leads to an improved gender pay gap and more flourishing staff.
“When half of women choose not to tell anyone at work that they are undergoing fertility treatment, as opposed to just 8% of men, as this report shows, it’s clear to see that there is a significant gap in how men and women are perceived on the path to parenthood. We call on business and government to ensure that women are not left behind at work because of fertility treatment, with policies that prioritise flexibility and compassion.
Jane Lorigan, Managing Director Totaljobs Group added: “Getting treatment for fertility issues impacts every aspect of someone’s life. Starting conversations at work can be sensitive to broach but employers that offer comprehensive and compassionate support can not only make the process easier to deal with but foster a better workplace for everyone.
“The subject of infertility remains a sensitive one, and the research shows us that a lack of awareness is one of the root causes behind employers not taking action or offering more support. Through our work with the Fawcett Society, we want to empower employers to provide optimal assistance to their staff, helping them to foster a fertility-friendly environment that not only draws in top-tier talent but also cultivates their success.”