Is fertility a topic for the workplace?

Last year, Raina Brands posted updates to her resume on Twitter. There is nothing unusual about an academic presenting her work to the public. But in this case, the to concentrate for the associate professor at the UCL School of Management was not professional but personal: “repeated loss of pregnancy” (2019-2020) and birth of her son (2021). “While one line on a resume cannot speak to the profound physical and emotional trauma of pregnancy loss,” she wrote, “I think it’s time to update #academic Resumes should include the entire life of women. »

She has received criticism over the wisdom of sharing such personal details in a professional field, but the response has been largely positive, with some saying they would follow suit. Almost a year later, Brands says she was “glad” she did. At the time, she hadn’t told anyone about it. If it had been a death in the family, everyone would know and take it into account. But “academia is publish or perish. My productivity was affected. Once I got over the grief, it occurred to me that many women are not able to talk about [miscarriage]. I thought I should say it out loud and put it on my resume.

Reactions to such life events are intensely personal. Some people need their grief and anxiety to come to an end for work to become an escape. Others find it impossible to prevent such feelings from seeping into their professional lives. You could turn out to be both. Boundaries are not necessarily fixed, they can change over time.

Burgess Mee, a family law firm, hopes her new position as a fertility officer will help staff feel more comfortable talking about family planning, pregnancy and reproductive issues. fertility. Natalie Sutherland, the family law associate who took on the role, told me she was reminded of the stress of dealing with such issues when she overheard city workers speaking at a seminar on issues of navigating labor while dealing with infertility, IVF and miscarriage.

“We tend to keep these things a secret, I don’t realize how many of our colleagues are going through the same thing. If we are open [we] can make changes [and find] ways to make it better.

She also wants employees to feel that motherhood is compatible with a career.

A fertility agent could help aspiring parents further their careers and also help employers plan for staffing shortages around doctor’s appointments and parental leave. Sutherland also hopes to encourage men to talk to her. A study on the impact of fertility issues on male employees heard of reluctance to disclose the issues, declines in productivity, “mental or emotional health issues that then compromised their functioning at work.” There was also financial pressure.

Google, Apple and Meta announced employee benefits in 2014, including egg freezing. According to a investigation last year, by human resources consultancy Mercer, the number of companies with more than 20,000 workers offering egg freezing treatments rose to 19%, from 6% six years earlier. These benefits have been criticized for not addressing a workplace that encourages women to delay childbearing and long hours incompatible with family life.

All champions and politicians in the world will fail if the culture is hostile, if a supervisor is unsympathetic, or if personal information is used against employees.

Joeli Brearly, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, a campaign group, says that in the worst-case scenario, private information could be used against an employee, resulting in [them] to be shunned and ignored”. Many women “would be hesitant to tell anyone at work that they are planning to have a baby because they have been so badly burned that any sense of confidence is gone.”

The career implications of disclosure are an area Brands is investigating after his own decision to do so.

Many will say that these questions do not concern an employer. Yet over the past two years, managers are all too aware of the domestic pressures their teams have had to endure while juggling homeschooling or family responsibilities, or dealing with isolation.

Maybe their mission has expanded?

emma.jacobs@ft.com

Pilita Clark is absent

Jessica C. Bell