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Redundancy fear leads women to hide IVF from employers

More than half (58%) of women don't disclose their IVF treatment to their employers out of fear for losing their jobs.

New research from insurer Zurich UK found almost a third (32%) of women think revealing their IVF status would put their job at risk, while more than a quarter (26%) feel their commitment to the job would be questioned.

The lack of employer support is having a detrimental effect on women's careers as 12% of women undergoing IVF said they quit their jobs due to a lack of support from their employer.

A further 14% were forced to reduce their working hours, and 13% said they were forced to take lower paying roles.

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Steve Collinson, chief HR officer at Zurich UK, said supporting women undergoing fertility treatments will help companies retain quality staff in the long run.

He said: “The journey to starting a family is unique to everyone, but regardless of how a person chooses to become a parent they should never fear losing their job or being left to feel unsupported in the workplace. Enabling women to prosper at all life stages is vital to attracting and retaining high performing individuals.

IVF treatment can be emotionally and physically stressful, and the length of the process can mean that women open themselves up to difficult conversations or even discrimination much earlier than those who are able to conceive naturally. Enshrining IVF leave as a right for all women won’t solve the whole problem, but it is a huge step towards ensuring that IVF is better understood and more sensitively handled in the workplace.”

Having a supportive manager proved to be a major benefit for women undergoing treatment. Almost two thirds of those surveyed (64%) said discussing IVF with managers or employers made their experience easier to deal with.

Some experienced negative reactions when discussing their IVF at work. This included insinuations that they were too old (30%) or too young (15%) for treatment, or that they could have avoided the need for IVF with better lifestyle changes (40%).

Geeta Nargund, medical director of Create Fertility, said women shouldn't be punished in the workplace for their infertility treatments.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "It is unacceptable that women’s concern over reproductive health issues and fertility treatment are being silenced through fear of not just stunting career progression, but of losing their job entirely for seeking the treatment they need.

"Infertility is a recognised disease and IVF treatment is not a holiday, a lifestyle choice or something to be ashamed of; it is a vital medical treatment. 

"With more than 50,000 UK women undergoing treatment annually, it is time that employers implement a rigorous re-evaluation of their policies surrounding women’s health and put in place a robust framework that will ensure women feel sufficiently supported to openly access healthcare they are entitled to."

Zurich UK surveyed 250 women who have recently undergone IVF treatment as part of its research.