Reproductive wellbeing and work: How can we improve support?
28th November 2019
Navigating our reproductive wellbeing and fertility experiences is often a challenge in and of itself, but doing this whilst working adds an extra level of complexity and stress. When we sit down at our desks or enter our places of work, it is unfortunately impossible to switch off the pain, our periods or the mental load that our bodies functionings or mis-functionings leave us with. So, they come to work with us.
With more and more women and menstruators sharing their stories and experiences from fatigue to injecting themselves with hormones for IVF treatment in the office toilets it’s clear that this is something that companies can no longer ignore and thankfully many are looking to improve.
The approach from the top
Earlier this month we saw Goldman Sachs announce their new ‘pathways to parenthood’ programme which in the words of the senior staff has been “designed to enable everyone in our workforce to better manage the commitment to their careers while starting, growing and supporting a family”.
In addition to their existing initiatives which includes supporting IVF treatments as well as things like sex-reassignment surgery, they now offer staff up to £15,500 to cover the cost of extracting eggs and buying donated eggs. Their main goal is to close the gender pay gap, which is a necessary goal, but is providing financial support enough?
Then there’s Channel 4, who are working on tackling the taboo surrounding menopause and improving support for their staff through it. This especially important when you consider that 59% of women who experience menopausal symptoms say that it negatively affects their work. As one of the UK’s leading media companies, they have introduced flexible working, paid leave and also designated cool and quiet workspace for their employees who are going through peri-menopausal symptoms. In addition to this, they also hold menopause-related training for HR and leadership teams and have a designated support network for internal gender equality issues called 4women.
Facts and figures
If we go back one step and look at the latest research from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence they estimate that almost EVERY woman in the UK will suffer from some form of reproductive health problem within their lifetime. This includes everything from endometriosis to PCOS and unexplained infertility to gynaecological cancers.
In a recent survey conducted by LinkedIn and Censuswide, 1/4 of the 4000 UK based employees polled, had experienced fertility problems, with over half of them feeling unsupported by their managers. Within the same poll, 90% of the HR professionals included in the study said that they would benefit from improved education to better understand and support employee fertility issues with 2/3 of the same population believing that fertility support in the workplace should be a statutory right.
The impact of poor support
The repercussions of poor support can be seen in our collective and individual stories. Speaking to family and friends as well as the Adia community we heard stories of increased physical and emotional strain which exacerbated conditions and situations, to being forced to come into work the day after a miscarriage, job insecurity and being unfairly dismissed.
Work can be a welcome distraction and having a routine can also help us not only financially support our journeys, but also give us some level of ‘normalcy’ or an anchor in our day to day lives. However, for those of us where our reproductive wellbeing takes up a huge amount of our headspace and physical energy, extra financial support from our employers is often not what we actually need.
Improving support in the workplace
Thankfully there are organisations out there who are revolutionising the professional arena. A leader in this area is The Womb Room, a London based organisation educating and collaborating with organisations and individuals to reach a more equitable future for menstruating individuals and those experiencing hidden illnesses.
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The Womb Room was founded in 2011 by Saschan Fearon-Josephs, after her own journey with endometriosis and the eventual removal of her right ovary and fallopian tube. Saschan set out to create a space and community to ‘engage people in normalising reproductive well-being issues [and to support] women to work in environments where they can truly be themselves through increased awareness and strategic support.’
Drawing on insights from the focus groups she runs to hosting staff training and wellness days, Saschan and her team help companies develop effective and perceptive support for their employees.
Change driven by employees themselves is also on the rise and helping to change the culture and conversations around reproductive wellbeing at work. Ellamae Fullalove, MRKH advocate shared how her office started a Female Form group which opened the floor to having discussions around reproductive health at work. There is now also a Menopause Awareness group and Ellamae recently created the Infertility support and awareness group. Collectively they are now carrying out internal research and surveys to explore the best way for their organisation support both men and women along their fertility journeys.
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The Perfect Package
Changing the support within workplaces comes down to culture which is a step further than just providing financial support. Our CEO and Founder Lina Chan, shared her thoughts on the Goldman Sachs and Channel 4 approach recently saying:
‘It’s always great to see companies improving their packages for their employees and their families. However, it has to go beyond just throwing out money to solve archaic policies. These actually signal more complex problems in our society and the general approach to reproductive health, family planning and supporting parents (and carers).’
‘Here at Adia we believe that if we are to close the gender pay gap, support employee wellbeing and improve our reproductive wellbeing journeys, there are three key must-haves for employers:
- Address company culture to create and curate a culture where employees do not experience or fear to experience shaming, discrimination or penalisation for their health condition.
- Develop a package and policies that are holistic in their approach and include support for the physical, mental and emotional side to our varied reproductive journeys. This may include the opportunity for flexible working or days off for those going through fertility treatments or with conditions such as endometriosis.
- Be available to staff across ALL roles regardless of pay band/ level of seniority.
There is not a one-size-fits-all way to do this, and in fact, the solution is multi-level and requires constant improvement and iterations which include listening to the employees themselves and ensuring things work for them.
The discussions are happening and we are starting to take steps in the right direction, but we still have a way to go.’
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