Why law firms must start using the F word

Guest post by Somaya Ouazzani, Natalie Sutherland and Emma Menzies, co-hosts of the In/Fertility in the City podcast

L-R: Emma Menzies, Natalie Sutherland, Somaya Ouazzani

Birth rates in the UK are the lowest they’ve ever been. It is no secret that men and women in the UK, and in the western world more generally, are starting – or at least trying to start – their families much later than ever before.

Years ago, law firms took a naive and simplistic view of fertility, offering many of their female employees egg freezing and fertility ‘MOTs’, a monstrous phrase much hated by virtually every woman or man that has ever had to have one.

Now, with the increased openness around in/fertility due, in part, to podcasts like ours, we’re seeing more sophisticated, holistic and better-informed benefits, policies and practices supporting men and women on their fertility journeys whilst at work.

Fertility benefits have finally started to surface, including time away from the office for fertility treatment and pregnancy loss policies for men and women who have suffered a pregnancy loss – vitally, at whatever stage of their pregnancy.

For decades, female lawyers have felt forced to postpone their family plans in order to reach professional milestones. It is widely accepted that in law an individual’s peak childbearing age (20s and 30s) coincides with when he or she might expect their career to be on an important trajectory.

Now that more men and women are speaking up about their fertility struggles, lawyers have started to take more proactive measures to ensure that their fertility plans do not collide with their professional aspirations. Many women have felt forced to postpone their career journeys and look for less pressured, slower-paced opportunities that allow them the flexibility needed for fertility treatment.

The profession has lost far too many outstanding women. Law firms have struggled with improving gender parity at the top, they have struggled to close the gender pay gap, and they have failed to ensure that opportunities for promotion are equally open to all.

This has adversely impacted their bottom line, their retention rates, their recruitment efforts and their reputation.

These problems are startingly worse at the Bar, with so few men and women having any recourse to any type of fertility resource within their chambers and, as a result, having to leave the profession altogether, or move into law firms in the hope of alleviating some of their struggles.

Between the three of us, we have worked with a considerable number of senior female lawyers who do not doubt that delaying their family plans made their fertility journey harder. It is widely accepted that the younger you are, statistically, the better your chances of getting pregnant and staying pregnant with fewer complications and stresses along the way.

Then there’s the impact of stress, adrenal fatigue, poor wellbeing, self-neglect, and poor nutrition on one’s fertility health. Might it be better for law firms to think about incorporating into their employee benefits, and everyday cultures, a greater emphasis on wellbeing and self-care?

Talking about the F word will also encourage wholesale culture change in the industry, something our podcast was specifically created to achieve. We need to be aware of every aspect of the fertility journey and all the minefields encountered along the way.

Facilities need to be provided to allow men and women to administer their fertility drugs in private and in peace. Time and space need to be given to allow men and women to attend any fertility-related appointment deemed necessary to support their fertility journey.

Law firms should have a fertility officer within their organisation with whom lawyers can share any and every aspect of their journey. The fertility officer should be trained to assist in everything from work allocation (if, for example, a lower, less-demanding workload is required at a point in time), absence, counselling, and how to access fertility benefits.

Law firms should consider, where resources permit, the possibility of interest-free loans to allow men and women to secure high-quality fertility treatment and investigation. However, law firms must ensure that their staff are not lulled into a false sense of security in kicking the fertility can down the road only for infertility issues to rear their ugly head at a later date.

Law firms should also consider the importance of bringing in fertility coaches to educate their staff on how to approach and respond to the F word.

The time has come for law firms to enable men and women to properly engage in their fertility journeys in the same way, with the same meaning and purpose, with which they’re expected to show up at work. The very start of that is getting comfortable with using the F word.

Somaya Ouazzani is a former divorce lawyer and the founder and CEO of Mimoza Fleur, a search firm dedicated to senior hires in the law. Natalie Sutherland is a specialist family law solicitor and partner at Burgess Mee Family Law. Emma Menzies is a fertility at work coach.

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