Just as pregnancy and parenthood are a normal part of life, so too are difficulties conceiving and miscarriage. They all significantly impact all aspects of life, including working life, yet pregnancy and parenthood are increasingly accepted and accommodated in the workplace (rightly so) in a way that difficulties conceiving and miscarriage are not. Why is this the case? Why is it that in 2020, so little is still said and done to acknowledge and support fertility at work?

It’s not as if fertility challenges are rare. Around 1 in 6 heterosexual couples in the UK experience fertility challenges. That’s approximately 3.5 million men and women of working age, the majority of whom will work. And let’s not forget that same sex couples and single people experience challenges becoming the parents they long to be too. 

It’s not as if fertility challenges are trivial either. While fertility challenges themselves may not be life threatening, they are certainly life limiting for those who are desperate to have their own family. They have the capacity to wreak havoc on physical and mental health, finances, relationships, hobbies, interests and careers. 

In the context of work specifically, it is not uncommon for individuals experiencing fertility challenges to find themselves: 

  • staying stuck in careers and roles that aren’t fulfilling; 
  • resigning, reducing their hours or relinquishing responsibilities;
  • struggling to manage the pressures and demands of the fertility journey alongside the pressures and demands of the job and becoming increasingly stressed and exhausted; 
  • unable to sustain the same levels of attendance and flexibility;
  • losing confidence and concentration;
  • losing connection with clients, colleagues and projects; and
  • feeling anxious about their career prospects, performance, self management and ability to seek and obtain much needed support.

And the impact doesn’t just stop with the individuals experiencing the fertility challenges. There is an inevitable ripple effect within organisations that can lead to:

  • inefficiencies;
  • operational disruption;
  • reduced business performance;
  • strained professional relationships;
  • dysfunctional teams;
  • poor quality leadership;
  • less diversity and inclusion; 
  • increased costs; and
  • reduced profits. 

So if it’s not because of prevalence and it’s not because of impact, why is it that fertility is not receiving the attention it so clearly deserves when it comes to careers and the workplace?

It can only be because of our thoughts, attitudes and behaviours towards it. Thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that have unconsciously become cultural norms, that are out-dated and unhelpful and serve no-one. Thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that have stifled our awareness of the depth and breadth of the impact of fertility challenges and that have kept us:

  • quiet, believing fertility is a taboo subject (especially in the workplace); 
  • feeling too uncomfortable, too embarrassed and too ashamed to discuss it; 
  • treating it as someone else’s problem, ignoring and avoiding it;
  • believing it is no big deal, trivialising and down playing it; and
  • uneducated, operating from judgements and assumptions.

These thoughts, attitudes and behaviours will continue to keep us stuck, enduring the same old difficulties, unless and until we change them.

We don’t get to choose whether we experience fertility challenges and we don’t get to choose whether we employ, manage, work alongside, supply or provide a service to someone who does.  But we do get to choose how we respond. 

We can choose to break the silence. We can start conversations. We can encourage others to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences and we can listen.  

We can choose to become better informed. We can acquire information. We can explore different perspectives and we can seek understanding. 

We can choose to be supportive.  We can work together. We can be mindful of different needs and challenges and we can implement solutions that work for all.

We can choose to take action that enables:

  • individuals experiencing fertility challenges to enjoy meaningful careers, utilise their talents, fulfil their potential and feel supported in their pursuit of parenthood; and
  • organisations to sustain an engaged and loyal workforce, motivated and high performing employees, functional teams, inclusive and diverse leadership, operational success and a competitive edge. 

Through our choices we can make a difference. We can instigate change and we can normalise fertility in the workplace. 

Will we do it in the 2020s? I certainly hope so.

Emma Menzies | 05 November 2020

Copyright © 2020 Emma Menzies t/a Ready Steady Coach

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