Considering that fertility treatments like egg freezing and IVF cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars, it’s easy to see the appeal of working for a company that foots the bill.
An increasing number of companies are offering fertility benefits - but still, research shows that the vast majority of patients pay for their care out of pocket. So what if your workplace doesn't currently offer fertility benefits? Are the only alternatives to pony up the cash yourself, get into debt, switch jobs, or take on part-time work in a company that does offer fertility perks? (i.e. The infamous Starbucks extra job...)
Before you take that route, it might be worth asking your workplace if they'd be open to adding fertility benefits, or at least covering part of the cost of fertility treatments. To nail this effectively, you'll want to gather some key information before you present your case.
We spoke to a senior HR manager at a major global company to get her tips on how you can ask for fertility benefits at work. She has asked to remain anonymous due to her company's internal policy, so let's just call her "Sally." Note that Sally's point of view is predominantly based on the tech industry because that's where her years of experience lie.
First, assess your company's appetite for fertility treatments as a declared benefit
Put simply, some companies are better financially positioned to provide fertility benefits and/or they are in greater need of recruiting top talent. Some ways to assess where your company stands on this spectrum is to start asking yourself the following questions: Do you work for a mid-market firm, or a small family startup? How much money is there for employee benefits? How embroiled in the war for top talent are they? How much do they care about being perceived as a preferred employer? If they have the money and the appetite: go for the statistical approach.
Consider why some companies offer fertility benefits. What's in it for them?
The tech industry is under continuous and growing pressure to reach and maintain gender equality - in salaries, in opportunities, and in representation across levels of seniority, but specifically in leadership roles. Added to that - it's a war for talent out there. The question of attracting and retaining critical skills is even more pressing than gender equality, and right now HR Directors in any tech company are thinking about how to compete in that war. The ones who can afford it would likely consider an expensive benefit that increases their ability to attract and retain skilled women, albeit via a clawback agreement.
Previous research I've done shows the leadership failing is because women leave work to have children right about the same time their careers reach the point where they'd be promoted, or start being primed for, senior and C-suite roles. Even if they're not out of the business that long, their attention is (understandably) divided as they return to work, and they never quite "catch up" compared to male counterparts. The good news is that I'm seeing a shift in mindset towards this - more open-mindedness to employing and promoting women who are pregnant already, and more trust and willingness to hold them up when they return to work. This creates less of a stigma around pregnancy, which has historically been treated like a disability.
Here are some additional facts to help build up your case:
Employees who had their IVF covered reported being more likely to remain in their job for a longer period (62%), were more willing to overlook shortcomings of their employer (53%) and were more likely to work harder (22%), according to research by FertilityIQ.
Almost 60% of women would opt for a company offering fertility benefits over a company that didn’t, and 55% would prefer an employer who provided coverage for annual fertility testing, according to a survey by Glamour and Modern Fertility.
Once you have a good grasp on how your company will benefit from fertility benefits, it's time to setup your proposal.
If you work for a small company...
Consider taking a one-on-one approach with a key decision maker, whether that's your HR manager or someone in management. The company probably doesn't have an endless benefit budget to pull from, but they don't want to lose you either (consider the alternative cost of hiring and training someone else to your current position and experience). Have a one-on-one conversation about your personal situation and what it would mean for your growth within the company. Back it up with figures about the cost of fertility benefits vs. the cost of losing an employee.
If money is a concern for them, consider how you'd be prepared to help. For example, would you be willing to pay for half of it? Or could they pay the full cost upfront and deduct the cost from your paycheck in installments? Tell them what you're willing to do in return for them carrying the cost upfront or helping you pay for it. There are more options to consider than straight-up full coverage. I'd pitch this in a live meeting (no letters) in order to give each person a chance to talk through the scenarios and to come up with a compromise that suits everyone involved.
If you work for a bigger company...
Demonstrate that it's not just you that would benefit. I'd rally the women in the office who the company would likely be concerned about retaining, assess their position on it, get their buy-in, and take the data to HR. But start with a small, targeted sample so you don't piss off HR by creating a ruckus with all the women before they've had a chance to decide.
Be precise about why it makes sense for employers
Here's an example of what type of pitch would appeal to me as an HR manager: "Hey, HR. Five of us Developers/Business Analysts/Future Leaders really think egg freezing will help us contribute more and worry less about leaving to have babies before we're even ready. We've crunched some numbers and to offer it to all of us would cost X. It's a well-known calculation that replacing a skilled employee costs up to 3x our annual salaries, so that's Y. We don't want to leave. If we do stay, imagine what it would do for gender equality in the company and the perception of our employer brand, not to mention how we'd inspire the female graduates we've just hired? We know it's expensive - could you think about offering it as a conditioned benefit? We even know who we'd want to do it with and how it works - so you don't have to figure that out."
Be human, too
By all means share your personal story and touch on emotions, that's persuasive and HR managers are people. But do bear in mind that at the end of the day most big companies are concerned with the bottom line - primarily be focused on showing them how it helps them win the war for talent.
Pick your company contact carefully
Who to pitch to depends on the company and your relationship with them. At my old company, I'd personally have had no problem with a group of employees setting up a conversation like this with myself and the entire leadership team simultaneously. However, at my present firm, the structure is a little different. At this company, it would be better to pitch the idea to the HR Director first and let them guide you on the possibility of it being passed and what the next steps might be. Start by trying to figure out what the culture in the HR department is like at your company. The HR Director's credibility is also a factor. If you doubt his/her credibility or you or think he/she will block it for invalid reasons, consider seeking counsel from a trusted person on the management team. For example, if you or anyone in your group has a good relationship with the CEO, consider bringing it into conversation over coffee.
Be aware that it could take a while to get approved
The approval process for something like fertility benefits depends on the company - smaller, private companies could agree on the spot, whereas bigger companies are likely to require board approval and follow a formal procurement process. It may be worth seeking out someone in the company who knows the process, or has done something like this before, and getting their mentorship or advice.
If you do your preparation and gather the right data for a smart discussion, whilst remaining realistic about the fact that it might not go the right way, then there is zero downside to stepping out your comfort zone and asking the question.
Remember...if you never try, you'll never know.