Fertility in the workplace
A century ago, women were expected to get married and have children by the age of 20.
How times have changed! This is the mighty 21st century, when women can choose to have a career before having children. They don’t even have to settle down and have a husband before they decide to have a child – with the help of IVF clinics and sperm donors, it’s now all possible.
For a woman in her 20s, having a child is sometimes not a priority, as fresh from university women want to start building a career. Waiting for the right partner might also delay starting a family.
For a woman in her 30s, the biological clock is ticking, although sometimes quietly. Does the biological clock exist? Of course it does, and we will tell you why.
Women are born with all their eggs. It is scientifically proven that a woman is most fertile in her 20s and loses 90% of her eggs by the time she is 30. Worrying? Yes and no. Worrying if she doesn’t have a partner, if she feels she doesn’t have all the conditions to provide for a child such as stable job and a reasonable income, a house, emotional support etc. Worrying if a woman is not aware about freezing her eggs and waiting for the right time to have a child.
And here are the reasons to not worry. All the above can be sorted with one trip (or rather, a few) to a fertility clinic.
After 30, a woman’s fertility decreases and it takes a drastic turn in her late 30s, the quality and quantity of the eggs start to become very low. The good news is that a woman can carry a child in her 40s, as her uterus does not age as fast as the eggs. So, if the woman is not ready yet to have a child, for whatever reason, she can freeze her eggs when they are at their best: in her 20s to mid 30s.
The regulations state that frozen eggs can be stored for up to 10 years, with increased pressure for this time limit to be increased (please see Progress Educational Trust campaign here). When ready, the eggs can be thawed, and fertilised with a partner’s or donor’s sperm.
Unfortunately, talking about fertility is sometimes still considered a stigma, which we strongly believe it shouldn’t be! A 2018 study takes into consideration the time of the menstrual cycle (menstrual distress and ovulation) in order to assess affective and behavioural consequences of working women. Contrary to general beliefs that a woman’s behaviour is negatively affected by her cycle, the study finds that “due to increased levels of oxytocin, female employees’ organizational citizenship behaviours (OCBs) peak right before ovulation, especially when their team identification is high.” (Mai et al).
What about peer effects? A Danish study (Ciliberto, 2016) claims that workplace and education affect fertility decisions, in a both negative and positive way. It makes sense if you think about it: a woman who works in a low-paid job might delay having a child if she sees her peers struggling with raising a child. The place she works at might also play a role in her decision to have children (basic maternity pay, short maternity leave, minimum support in terms of childcare etc). Conversely, when a woman has a successful, well paid career, she knows that all the factors discussed for women on low-income don’t apply to them, and this might be positive.
Luckily, we do live in a modern world, and a very interesting article published in December 2019 (Russell et al) claims that “’Hormone lunches’ help women in workplace open up about fertility.” The article describes a heart breaking case, when, after a miscarriage, a woman was expected at work the next day due to the lack of “miscarriage leave”. And, it seems, women now bring fertility subjects right at the workplace, asking their employees about fertility support – subsidised egg freezing, time off for IVF treatments, that deserve as much consideration as adoption leave, dependant leave or sick leave.
Is this fair for men? Who said men and women are equal? Anatomically, at least, they are not. Women might be diagnosed with PCOS which cause great menstrual pain. While this is a private matter, companies could and should offer support for all fertility-related problems, not depending on gender, because there is stigma surrounding men infertility too.
There is plenty of room for discussions on this subject and we would like to invite you to share your opinion. One thing is certain. We live in a modern world, where working women can choose to have a child on their own, when they feel it’s right.
To support Progress Educational Trust to extend the 10 years limit on egg storage, please click here.
To learn more about egg freezing click here.
Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings. Vol. 2018 Issue 1, p1-1. 1p. DOI: 10.5465/AMBPP.2018.10090 [accessed 3rd November 2020].
International Economic Review. Aug, Vol. 57 Issue 3, p827-856. 30p. DOI: 10.1111/iere.12177 [accessed 3rd November 2020].
3) Russell, Melia. (2019) ‘Hormone lunches’ help women in workplace open up about fertility
San Francisco Chronicle (CA). 05/12/2019 [accessed 3rd November 2020]