Performative activism is declining, and businesses are slowly starting to ditch the rainbow flags and statements that only appear during Pride month. Instead, inclusive organisations are focusing on creating real change for LGBTQ+ members of the workforce.
Although it’s great to see this happening, there’s still a long way to go regarding employers recognising that paths to parenthood are different and often more complex for LGBTQ+ members, especially in the knowledge that 77% of LGBTQ+ Millennials are either already parents or considering having children, a 44% increase on their elders¹. With this in mind, we spoke to three LGBTQ+ advocates to shed light on family-building challenges in the workplace and what workplaces can do to become truly inclusive.
We spoke with three partners of Fertility Matters at Work who all do brilliant work in raising awareness and driving the need for better support; Laura-Rose Thorogood, founder of LGBT Mummies and Proud Foundations, Michael Johnson-Ellis, co-founder and co-CEO of TwoDadsUK and My Surrogacy Journey, and Julianne Boutaleb, consultant perinatal psychologist at Parenthood in Mind.
Family-building challenges in the workplace
We asked Laura-Rose her thoughts on family-building challenges in the workplace, she shared: “In the workplace, many don’t have the framework or policies to support LGBTQ+ families starting their journey, the language isn’t inclusive, attending appointments if they’re the non-gestational carrier isn’t supported, and even having to administer injections or medication at work can be an issue.”
“For many, keeping it private is crucial as they feel the glass ceiling is ultimately ‘lowered’ if they’re seen to be starting a family, and the prospect of career progression comes to a halt.”
Michael shares his thoughts on the challenge of privacy: “Privacy is a prevalent issue to family building in the workplace for members of the LGBTQ+ community. This is especially true if you’re not out yet, as explaining your family-building decision to strangers can be triggering.
“Being a gay parent, most of us comment that there is the ‘second outing’. For example, we always have to explain to others where our child’s Mum or Dad is. Also, as a gay man wanting to take full advantage of adoption/surrogacy leave, my work commitment was questioned, “why would you want to take a year off work?” as I was the first man ever requesting time off with my child.”
Both Laura-Rose and Michael have had their own experiences with family-building challenges in the workplace. However, overall, Laura-Rose described her parenthood journey at work as positive: “With all three of our children I personally had a great and supportive experience and they helped alleviate a level of stress that would have otherwise been a barrier to start our family.
“Unfortunately, in many cases, people will leave to find a better, more supportive employer if they are not treated like I was. Mine made me feel listened to, gave me the time I needed to attend appointments and regularly asked “how are you doing?”. Knowing the door was open and it was a safe space for me was crucial.”
This highlights the impact a positive fertility and parenthood experience in the workplace can have on individuals, and we believe a positive journey starts with usualising LGBTQ+ family building, a term used by Laura-Rose which rightly suggests that we should be aware of and prepared for this being a ‘usual’ path for many LGBTQ+ people.
Usualising LGBTQ+ family-building
Julianne suggests that one of the reasons for the above challenges may be because it’s not recognised, expected or usualised in some workplaces for LGBTQ+ members of staff to be building families. This is why it’s so important that organisations implement appropriate education, training, support, with appropriate and inclusive policy to ensure they’re meeting diversity and inclusion objectives.
Firstly, for those part of the LGBTQ+ community, Julianne highlights that workplaces need to signal that they expect their employees to go on to build a family. They can do this in a variety of ways, for example showcasing alternative family structures, appointing LGBTQ+ champions, allowing employees in the workplace to talk about their experiences, as Julianne says “If you can see it, you can be it”.
Secondly, it’s important that it is acknowledged that the route to parenthood can be much more complex and onerous for LGBTQ+ people. It may involve, for example, the need for overseas travel, extended periods abroad, plus legal and financial challenges, all of which may put extra pressure on LGBTQ+ employees. In addition, bringing up these highly personal issues with your manager could make someone feel intensely vulnerable. However, if it is clear that management have an understanding and appreciation of LGBTQ+ family building, it will reduce the likelihood of employees feeling stressed or anxious about raising these issues with their managers.
IVF isn’t the only path to parenthood
Julianne adds: “Organisations need to educate themselves on the alternative paths to parenthood and what they entail as they are often complex and misunderstood. There’s an assumption that IVF is the only route, and adoption, donor conception, fostering and surrogacy is often overlooked. If workplaces can educate themselves on this and the limitations that LGBTQ+ people face from the UK’s healthcare system, they will be better equipped to offer them the appropriate support.”
Paths to parenthood for LGBTQ+ couples and individuals include:
- Donor conception
- Assisted reproduction (IVF, IUI, ICSI)
Promoting an inclusive workplace culture
Workplaces should foster an inclusive culture so that all people needing fertility treatment to build their family, especially members of this community feel comfortable seeking help. Workplaces should consider signposting relevant tailored support services for fertility issues, specifically for LGBTQ+ parents.
Laura-Rose adds that support could be in the form of awareness raising, such as lunch and learn sessions, not just for those in managerial positions but for all staff members. Michael believes workplaces should also implement regular group meetings where minorities can speak up safely about issues they’re facing and share experiences that can instigate change.
Work by Fertility Matters at Work (FMAW) supporting intended parents through surrogacy has found that most work policies that talk about adoption often overlook the fact that adoptive leave is also the only legal guidance for those who have biological children via surrogacy arrangements. There is a stark absence of the term ‘Intended Parents’ from the majority of workplace policies, it’s as if it doesn’t exist and ultimately leaves people feeling isolated and unsupported on their family-building journey.
By ensuring this kind of support is accessible to all employees, businesses will create a psychologically safe work environment, whereby employees feel comfortable speaking up about their concerns and issues and feel confident that they will be provided with the support they need, when they need it. People want to see themselves and their experiences reflected in their place of work and this can be done in a variety of ways. As already outlined by Laura-Rose, inclusive language is so important, in the absence of this people will feel excluded and will therefore be less likely to ask for support.
Often the first place employees look for recognition and support is within workplace policy or guidance and so to cement this support even further, and to reassure employees that they’re entitled to it, HR policies should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure they’re inclusive for all paths to parenthood, whether you’re a non-birthing or birthing parent.
The impact of non-inclusive workplaces
It’s really clear that there’s so much more workplaces can be doing to foster a positive workplace for those going through complex fertility and parenthood journeys. For those that overlook education, training, support and policy, it could not only have an impact on the individual’s fertility/parenthood journey but ultimately their mental health.
According to research by Stonewall, more than half of LGBTQ+ community members may suffer from depression, and 3 in 5 have reported anxiety. Many of these issues stem from discrimination, bullying and other adverse experience/ Julianne adds that these mental health issues could potentially re-arise when on a complex journey to parenthood, and therefore it’s vital that workplaces do more to help those impacted feel seen and heard at work. It’s also vitally important that when needed staff have access to tailored and specialist mental health support.”
Stonewall offers a Stonewall Champions programme that organisations can take part in to ensure all LGBTQ+ staff are accepted without exception in the workplace. We’d recommend taking part in this if you’re looking to improve diversity and inclusion in your workplace, as well as reviewing your fertility support offering as a whole. Check out our resources to learn more about why fertility really does matter at work and learn more about how we can support your organisation, alongside our partners from the LGBTQ+ community.
We’re currently working with MP Nickie Aiken for a much-needed change in employment legislation to protect the rights of all people undergoing fertility treatment. There are currently no employment rights for workers who require fertility treatment as the only way to build their family, leading to many feeling the need to hide their treatment from their employer and facing fears relating to their employment.
The second reading of the bill is set to take place on 25th November 2022, and we’re asking people to help make a difference by writing to their local MP asking for their support for this proposed legislation to offer the statutory right for time off for fertility treatment. You can find out more here.