In the second of a two-part series marking the launch of H+K’s fertility policy, Managing Director and new mum, Orla Moran shares her tips for navigating fertility treatment in the workplace.

The very topic of starting a family is one that, for so many reasons, is rarely spoken about openly in the workplace. Particularly for women – who make up around two thirds of the PR industry – it is a loaded subject with many outdated associations about our commitment and dedication to our careers. In a timely piece for the Times, Emma Barnett reported the same, explaining; “The fact is that in the workplace, and indeed in all settings, telling people you are trying for a baby remains taboo. I am not proposing everyone tells their boss or colleagues the moment they embark on the conception road. But if a woman does want to take the plunge and disclose this in the work setting, it shouldn’t be viewed as one of the most frightening conversations she ever thought of having.” But where do we begin in turning the tide on this?

Increasingly, we are encouraged to bring our whole selves to work and we’ve made huge strides to ensure workplaces are equal, open, safe spaces where we can succeed on our own terms while also recognising and celebrating that we all have varied lives outside work. But despite, on average, one in six couples needing some sort of assistance when it comes to conceiving (and that’s before you also factor in same sex couples’ paths to parenthood), it’s still the great taboo and is rarely discussed. In fact, according to Fertility Network UK, in 2021 1 in 5 people (20%) did not inform their employer about having fertility treatment and nearly two-thirds (60%) felt the need to hide the real reason for time taken off for appointments and fertility-related illness.

For a long time, I was one of these people – choosing not to share this aspect of my personal life at work for a multitude of reasons – ultimately, if our treatment were to succeed, it would mean I’d be taking some time out of the business on maternity leave and I didn’t want any assumptions that I had one foot out the door or cause my team to wobble unnecessarily. So I chose to do it quietly – all the scans, hormones, procedures and disappointment along the way was done privately. And. It Was. Exhausting.

Thankfully, the tide does seem to be changing in this space. Fertility policies seem to be firmly on the agenda of many companies in 2022 and I’m proud to say H+K is included within that. In the same way that the incredible wave of positive discussion around menopause has started to turn the cogs of real change, while it’s still in its infancy, I very much hope the fertility discussion will do the same.

As I reflect on this journey and prepare for my own impending maternity leave, I know when I think about my large team of women I would want them to be better equipped than I was to undergo this major life event and strike the true meaning of work/life balance, should they find themselves in the same position. Fortunately at H+K we have the policies and culture to support this but for anyone undergoing treatment I would recommend;

  1. Not using all your annual leave up on fertility procedures and appointments. They are not a holiday – far from it – and you will need some time off to truly have a break and enjoy yourself. Instead, investigate whether your workplace has a specified fertility policy so you can negotiate some time off around key moments for recovery – failing that, that is the very definition of what sick leave was made for
  2. Not holding back at work, if it brings you focus. While I was in the process of my fertility treatment my role at H+K changed, which saw me take on more responsibility. The new role provided a much-needed focus for me while other things were going on and an area of my life where I could show demonstrable progress and success – not always easy when you’re absorbed into the world of fertility. If work and your career bring you joy, as they do me, then indulge!
  3. Use your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – most companies now have an EAP in place, which offers some level of mental health support. At H+K we have everything from Mental Health Allies through to readily available access to trained mental health professionals and longer-term Bupa support as needed. Talking therapies really can help and are usually very quickly available
  4. Find your person – having just one person at work who knows what’s going on and can check in from time to time is a life-saver
  5. Know you’re not alone – think about it, if one in seven heterosexual couples go through it, how many others around you have been or are in the exact same shoes as you? Find your allies and use them for support. At H+K we are lucky to have a Parents’ Network in place, who look at a range of topics including fertility. It’s only by having these conversations that awareness around it will increase and things change

The very nature of us bringing our whole selves to work and creating an equitable professional environment is that we can recognise we are all human and all have lives outside work. Sometimes life doesn’t run smoothly and its ok to bring that to work too. It’s time we broke down the taboos regarding becoming parents so we are able to acknowledge that part of our lives without fear it will see us overlooked for that big project or promotion. Because if you’re killing it at work, people will continue to want you on their team and on those big projects regardless of whether you plan to or are about to become a parent or not. Honest.

Read part one here to hear Gina MacCarthy’s experience with creating H+K London’s Fertility Policy and thoughts on breaking workplace taboos in order to create a culture of inclusivity.