By Dr. Pragya Agarwal| March 8, 2020
"Fertility treatment is on the increase in the U.K., approaching 68,000 treatment cycles carried out every year and approximately 1 in 6 couples (3.5 million people) affected. One in 8 women of reproductive age may face problems when trying to conceive a child, which makes infertility more common than Type 2 diabetes. In 2015, 73,000 babies were born using assisted reproductive technologies, a number that has doubled in the last decade. But, it is still being treated as a niche issue.
Michelle Obama, upon the release of her memoir in late 2018, revealed that she and her husband Barack Obama had used IVF to conceive their daughters and opened up the public discourse around infertility. However, there are no clear workplace policy guidelines on the kind of support that individuals undergoing fertility treatments should expect to receive. Paid paternity and maternity leave has been a subject of discussion and debate in recent years, therefore aiming to make workplaces more inclusive for parents, and women in general. But, fertility treatments have been largely seen as a private matter, and not the subject of robust policy discussions.
In most cases, infertility is surrounded by silence and stigma and women, in particular, are reluctant to share this in the workplace, for fear of being stereotyped. In general, women already face a number of barriers and biases in the workplace. Mothers specifically face a motherhood penalty even before they have a child. In a study published in the American Psychological Association, Eden King shows that discrimination starts the moment a woman announces that she is pregnant. Women encountered more subtle discrimination in the form of rudeness, hostility, decreased eye contact and attempts to cut off the interaction when they appeared to be pregnant (wearing a pregnancy prosthesis) while applying for jobs in retail stores than when the same women did not appear to be pregnant. Implicit unconscious biases and stereotypes are at play here, as women are being penalized for acting out of their feminine stereotype. The study shows that these acts of subtle sexism and microaggressions starting when a woman announces their pregnancy puts her firmly on the "mommy track" and can have a huge impact on her decision to leave the workforce. Women who become mothers also earn less than their childless peers."