‘Women Going Through IVF Need Protection In The Workplace’

'I cannot believe in this day and age women do not have the statutory right to take time off for fertility treatment'

IVF workplace

by Grazia |

Did you know one in six couples are affected by infertility? That’s millions of people, across all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. Going through fertility treatment is emotionally draining, costly, risky and it can be a long process. And it is predominantly women who go through it, sometimes in multiple cycles before conceiving, and many do not even conceive at all.

They must deal with the side effects, the risk of complications, and the day-to-day practicalities. Therefore, undergoing treatment while juggling a career is very tough. Many people feel they cannot tell their employer for fear of being overlooked for a promotion or being made redundant. They are staying silent because of fear and a lack of protection. I’ve heard of women having to inject themselves in the toilets at work, just so their bosses don’t find out.

Those who do tell their employer feel vulnerable, they feel like they are often overlooked for promotion or have big projects taken off them. It’s no wonder more than a third (36%) going through fertility treatment have considered quitting their job.

I cannot believe in this day and age women do not have the protections or statutory right to take time off for attending appointments for fertility treatment, and that is why I am proposing a Parliamentary Bill that will seek to do just that.

Infertility is after all is a medical issue, defined by the World Health Organisation as a disease of the reproductive system, and it is also the route to parenthood for those in the LGBTQ+ community, of which 77% between the ages of 18-35 are either already parents or considering having children. We have got to change this. People need the permission to attend fertility appointments no matter where they work, without fear of being negatively impacted in their career. And I am pleased to be working with a group of brilliant women and organisations to bring this campaign to Parliament.

One of the amazing organisations I am working with is Fertility Matters at Work who believe that the number of people going through treatment and quitting their job or setting up their own business is actually much higher than 36 per cent. They’ve also found through their surveys that some 70 per cent have taken sick leave. This is shockingly high, and it is bound to have a massive organisational impact in the places in which they work. They hear that people feel embarrassed and unfortunately there is a stigma in society attached to infertility.

Becky Kearns, one of their co-founders, who recently wrote an excellent article for Grazia on this very issue, tells me she was one of the 36 per cent who considered leaving their job while undergoing fertility treatment. She went through five cycles of IVF, and despite her workplace being very supportive, she found the journey emotionally draining and eventually got to a point where she could not manage it alongside her job. In Becky’s case, she ended up reducing her hours and taking a sideways step in her career, but there are many people in Becky’s situation who are leaving their jobs because they have no protection, and they feel they cannot talk to their employer.

My Parliamentary Bill will propose to give individuals and couples the statutory right to take the time off for fertility treatment, just like they would have for antenatal appointments.

I would also like to see a legal requirement for employers to have a workplace fertility policy. Another brilliant woman I have been working with is Natalie Sutherland who is a partner and fertility officer at her law firm, Burgess Mee. Natalie is a dedicated point of contact for staff going through treatment and they can talk to her in confidence, discuss policies, time off and work cover.

We need to see much more of this, and I would like to see organisations introduce guidance on rights to time off work for treatment and miscarriage, flexible working, access to HR support and counselling on a confidential basis. This would help to improve workplace culture for workers looking to build a family through fertility treatment.

We are seeing people choosing to have children later in life and this comes with its biological challenges. Over the last twenty years, the average age at which women have children is around thirty, which is an increase of about two years. Meanwhile, the proportion of IVF cycles undertaken by patients over the age of 40 has increased exponentially. Workplaces need to take this into account when planning and thinking about their workforce strategies.

Above all, we should be celebrating the fact that we have access to amazing science that allows couples and individuals who want to have a child and give them the best possible life, to be able to try to do just that. Everyone should have the right to build their family and to do so without fear of unfavourable treatment in the workplace.

I’m pleased to have got this very important campaign to Parliament. If we are successful, millions of people, especially women, will be better off and will be treated with the dignity and compassion that they deserve.

If you’re interested in hearing more about my campaign and from some of the brilliant women I am working with, listen to my podcast episode on the issue. In Conversation with Nickie Aiken is available on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you normally download your podcasts.

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