Council Post: Infertility In The Workplace: How Employers Can Support Workers

Leen Kawas
4 min readApr 10, 2024

Leen Kawas | Entrepreneur, Inventor, Innovator and Leader | Managing General Partner at Propel Bio Partners.

In today’s complex, fast-paced world, the announcement of a pregnancy often generates old-fashioned joy and excitement. However, couples and individuals struggling with infertility might experience a mix of emotions.

In the U.S., about one in five women has difficulty conceiving a child after a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Infertility” is defined as the inability to conceive following one year of trying, the CDC said. For women over 35, they may be treated for infertility after six months of trying.

Through my work as a board director for a biosciences company that provides a product focused on male infertility, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges couples can face throughout their fertility journey. As a leader, I’ve also had employees come to me directly to share what they’re going through. These experiences have shown me how fertility challenges can affect someone both at home and at work, and I’ve also learned a few valuable lessons on how leaders can better support employees navigating infertility.

How Infertility Can Impact People Personally And Professionally

The fertility journey can be an emotional roller-coaster. Couples may repeatedly be hopeful only to be faced with disappointing news. This can cause increased strain on their relationship, which might manifest itself in multiple ways. One study of women who underwent fertility evaluation but did not have a child found that, after 12 years, almost 27% of participants no longer lived with the same person they began treatments with.

Furthermore, any major undertaking involves considerable expense, and the fertility journey is no exception. Fertility clinic visits could incur costly travel, for example, which could result in lost work time and negatively affect one’s income. Also, fertility testing and treatments are not always covered by insurance. Taken together, fertility testing and treatment can create a major strain on someone’s budget.

At work, people who experience fertility challenges (and often subsequent treatments) might be concerned they’ll see negative impacts in their workplaces. Many women, for example, don’t tell their employers about an ongoing issue, fearing potential career damage from this revelation.

There’s also the sheer task of managing fertility appointments and one’s workload. People undergoing treatments might need to take considerable time away from work, and some treatments also require a period of recovery. The procedures’ uncertain outcomes can also be a source of stress.

Employees engaged in a fertility journey might find it difficult to concentrate on workplace responsibilities. Some employers might view this behavior as proof that the worker lacks commitment to their job.

Many people make lifestyle changes when undergoing fertility treatments. To illustrate, some women turn down challenging projects, reduce their workloads or decline to pursue promotional opportunities.

Advancements In Infertility Research

Fortunately, I believe couples and individuals facing fertility challenges can benefit from some positive developments. In January, women’s infertility was the “women’s health indication leading the clinical trial count” that month, according to an analysis of data from GlobalData’s Trials Intelligence platform. This encouraging result follows a notable 2023, which included the most female infertility clinical trials since 2019. If clinical trials continue at this pace, 2024 could exceed pre-pandemic clinical trial numbers, the analysis also said.

How Employers Can Support The Fertility Journey

Despite the above positive development, it doesn’t compensate for the unequal access to fertility care in the U.S. Again, fertility treatments are known to be expensive, and private insurers often do not cover these procedures.

A Harvard Business Review article outlined strategies for employers who want to support an employee’s fertility journey. The article points out that fertility-friendly policies and benefits-such as financial support, access to counseling and flexible work and career-planning options-can help provide couples with peace of mind. From my perspective, it is particularly important to include fertility coverage for both male and female fertility diagnostics and procedures. Men are commonly overlooked, despite male infertility being a factor in “ at least one-third of cases.”

HBR’s article also recommends providing managers with guidance on how to better work with employees experiencing physical and scheduling impacts. I believe this workplace guidance, supplemented by social and perhaps professional support, could enable couples to more easily navigate their fertility journeys.

To further support workers, employers and companies should ensure they’re listening to the unique needs of each individual with an open mind and perspective. Make yourself truly available for open dialogue and planning. Provide educational resources with equal emphasis on parenting toward all employees. Create a safe environment for employees to share what they are going through if they want to.

I think leaders who show and are receptive to vulnerability create a more collaborative environment and open-door culture. In my own experiences, women have directly come to me for advice and assistance navigating their fertility journeys over my male counterparts. When asked why they chose to come to me, many felt as though I’d be more understanding, knowledgeable and supportive in this space.

By proactively arming all managers, executives and leaders with tools to support workers navigating fertility, we can bridge gaps and create a professional environment where all leaders are compassionate and aware of how fertility can impact the workplace, and all employees are empowered to have an open dialogue.

Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.

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