Building families with Pride: the need to understand the complexities of alternative parenthood
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of same-sex families increased by 50% between 2015 and 2018, and we expect this figure to continue rising. While it is fantastic progress that more opportunities are opening up for LGBTQ+ people to build families, what we don’t always appreciate is how multifaceted and tricky these paths to parenthood can be. Many couples – and indeed an increasing number of single people – are faced with a lack of NHS support, multiple appointments, medical investigations, gruelling drug regimes, financial strain, changing course when one route proves a dead end and often a myriad of stress and disappointment before the end goal is achieved.
The more equipped employers are to fully understand what’s involved – from a practical, social, emotional, physical and financial perspective – the higher the chances of providing a truly inclusive, family-friendly workplace. When this is achieved, you have a happier and more productive workforce.
So, what can companies do to learn more and support LGBTQ+ people with their family plans?
Create a culture of openness
Fertility and building a family are still largely taboo subjects in the workplace. Not just for LGBTQ+ individuals, but for everyone. People fear that they will be judged or that they will hamper their career prospects if their employer knows that they are planning on having children.
The truth is, most people over the age of 25 will, at some point, consider starting a family. That’s a huge proportion of the workforce and employers should both expect and be prepared for the likelihood of this happening. We like to think that the days of being judged for having a life outside of work are firmly in the past.
However, we do need to do more to bring these conversations into the open.
Even just five years ago, the topic of mental health was largely swept under the carpet, but thanks to several effective charity campaigns and educational initiatives, such as Mental Health First Aid – and more people coming forward to share their stories – the stigma has reduced greatly in recent years.
We must encourage dialogue about reproductive health, too.
There are some very simple ways in which employers can do this:
One missing link appears to be regular education for employees – and by this, we mean the entire workforce. While HR teams are usually first in line for inclusion training, the messages need to be fully embedded. Line manager training is often the next step, but after that, the buck often stops.
Employers should consider regular, company-wide sessions such as guest speaker talks on reproductive health, which should be open to anyone to join. By being a proactive supporter of family-friendly initiatives and, most importantly, embedding this ethos through all layers of the organisation, employers can really help employees feel comfortable in discussing these personal issues. This in turn increases employee trust and loyalty.
Too many parental leave policies still don’t accommodate the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. We hear tales of some line managers being incredibly supportive, while others simply don’t know enough about the process to fully empathise.
A good policy should leave no grey areas and consider a wide range of factors, including the following:
- a same-sex female couple who undergo fertility treatment will both need adequate time off to bond with their baby, not just the carrier of the baby
- same-sex couples who adopt will need time off in advance of the arrival of their child to attend a range of crucial appointments and assessments
- a same-sex male couple using a surrogate should have an allowance to attend pre-natal appointments together. They will also want to share primary care duties in those crucial early weeks once the baby is born.
Get the terminology right
All too often, people use the wrong terminology when referring to the LGBTQ+ community and their alternative parenthood journeys. This is rarely intentional; it’s usually a case of simply not understanding the correct terms. It can also be quite a personal thing as it’s not always a case of “one size fits all”. The best way to approach this is to have open conversations and ask how individuals prefer to be addressed, and ensure that this information is shared with the right people.
Join this free webinar
The Workplace Fertility Community – a non-profit venture designed to raise awareness of fertility issues at work – is hosting a “Building Families with PRIDE” webinar on 23 June, which will feature some inspirational stories from same-sex couples who have built their families through donor conception, adoption and surrogacy.
They will share some valuable learnings from their experiences and provide frank and practical suggestions for employers on how to best support others in the workplace who may be embarking on a similar journey.
The author is Hema Wara, chief of staff and client services director at Fertifa.
This article is provided by Fertifa.
In partnership with Fertifa
Fertifa is the UK’s leading fertility and reproductive health benefits provider.