One in five workers who have undergone fertility treatment quit their job because of the way they were treated during the process, according to new research by Totaljobs and the Fawcett Society, which explores 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 (33%) had considered leaving due to how they were treated by their employer during this time.
The findings highlight a high level of stigma when it comes to fertility issues. Six out of 10 (59%) of those surveyed hadn’t told a manager about their treatment, and over two-thirds (68%) 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.
The research found that the top three reasons people kept their fertility treatment a secret were that it felt too personal (28%); concern for it not working out (18%); and fear of being judged or misunderstood by colleagues and their superiors (18%).
As a result, nearly a third (31%) call for open conversations around fertility treatment and employee-led peer support networks to remove stigma and secrecy around the fertility journeys. Eight out of 10 (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 (80% vs 76%). 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 (69% vs 62%).
It also uncovered the numerous challenges facing those navigating fertility issues at work. One in six (16%) 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 well-being, compared to 12% of men. The figures increase to 24% of women on low-incomes and single women.
More than four out of 0 (43%) of workers who have gone through fertility treatment in the last five years have found it difficult to juggle treatment alongside work commitments. A similar proportion (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 and 11% saying that their fertility treatments have had a negative impact on relationships with their colleagues.
The benefits of 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.
61% 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.
The benefits of fertility inclusivity are recognised by HR leaders. A quarter (26%) reported that posting fertility-friendly benefits like ‘flexible working’ on jobs ads can reach a wider pool of talent and give a competitive advantage (24%). But while eight out of 10 HR leaders say that their organisations offers some form of fertility support, only half that proportion (40%) have specific policies in place to support this and over three-quarters (77%) say they’ve encountered challenges trying to implement fertility support in the workplace.
“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,” said Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society.
“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.”
"Getting treatment for fertility issues impacts every aspect of someone’s life,” added Jane Lorigan, Managing Director of Totaljobs Group. “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."