Every year in June we celebrate the so-called “Pride Month” – under the sign of the rainbow flag, people all over the world campaign for more tolerance and diversity in society as well as equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
Right in time for this years pride month we were able to celebrate some more exciting news: France legalised access to fertility treatments for women in same-sex relationships, as well as single women, a possibility that many women in other European countries are still waiting for.
Parents in rainbow families, but also childless lesbian and gay couples have persistently fought for the equality of same-sex partnerships over the last decades – with great success: The number of same-sex families increased by 50% only from 2015 to 2018. And while this is a great step into a future where we normalise alternative family models, it is important not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but especially for their employers, to fully understand the complexity of alternative family forming.
While there are numerous programmes and initiatives to support traditional family models, such as parental leave, only few companies provide the necessary support for the needs of same-sex couples. There are not only many legal barriers to starting their own family up until today, but also the family forming process itself is more complex and cost-intensive than the ones of the average male-female couple’s.
And not only that: this experience is also often a rollercoaster of emotions – fear, hope & disappointment come hand in hand and have a strong impact on the mental health of families and couples. As the topic is still stigmatised and a taboo, those affected usually feel very lonely in their process, too.
So what can companies do to better support their LGBTQ+ employees in the future?
Education is key
In addition to the HR department and the management level, every employee should be sensitised and receive appropriate training in the form of lectures, workshops and information materials on diversity and inclusion, including alternative family forms and the challenges that can come with it. Corporate education helps to destigmatise the topic and to talk openly about different family models and the challenges they involve within the company.
As mentioned above, the right communication is crucial. 90% of people want to start a family at some point in their lives. Still, people fear the negative impact on their career if their employer knows that they are planning on having children. Open conversations are needed! A family-first culture must also be reflected in the communication – every employee should know that his or her employer supports starting a family at any time. In order to do that, set an example by sharing experiences, encourage employees to share theirs and practice what you preach by supporting those employees who already have children when they need it, e.g. by offering flexible working hours, support in finding daycare, etc.
Adequate policies & benefits
Female same-sex couples in most European countries have the option to go through artificial reproductive therapy (ART) if they want to start a family. But these procedures are not only costly, as one cycle of IVF can cost around £5000, but also require a lot of energy. Numerous obligatory doctor appointments during the IVF treatment necessitate absence from work. The hormonal stimulation for the IVF treatment can also cause mental as well as physiological discomfort.
For (male) same-sex couples accessing adoption or surrogacy services, the costs for having a child can quickly climb up to £40,000 and it often takes several years and countless assessments until the procedure is completed.
There are therefore numerous things to consider when updating or implementing company policies and employee benefits for the LGBTQ+ community.
Fertility Treatments often come with several doctors appointments. From first consultations to the treatments up until the regular check-ups the couple or single parent frequently needs days off. In most cases there is also more than just one treatment cycle needed. Although the employee does not undergo the treatment him- or herself, he or she may want to support the partner or surrogate mother anyway. Even if the same-sex couple or the single parent decides to adopt, this may also involve several counselling sessions and visits. In addition, the soon to be parents need time to build a relationship and bond with the new family member.
As everyone knows by now, fertility treatments are very expensive. Even if health insurance pays a certain amount in some countries, this is usually linked to various conditions such as age, gender or marital status. Companies can therefore offer a huge support by providing their employees personal support and guidance to know their options beforehand and a budget for the expensive fertility treatments/adoption/surrogacy. This way, companies not only show that they support every form of family, but also give those the chance to have a family who are unable to start one naturally.
While maternity leave after giving birth is common in most countries, more and more companies offer parental leave for the partner as well, to be able to spend some time with the newborn. But also people who have become parents through adoption or surrogacy might need time to support the partner or surrogate mother during the whole process. Moreover, they also need time with a new family member to get used to the new situation and bond.
To sum it up – the possibilities to form a family for the LGBTQ+ community requires a lot of time, money and energy. LGBTQ+ intended parents not only have to overcome a lot of stigma and legal barriers, but also the challenges that come with the family forming process itself. Companies should be aware and open to different family concepts and offer progressive initiatives to support their employees in one of the most critical phases of their lives. Fertility and Family Forming Benefits can be a huge differentiator.