It had become a routine two or three times a week. I’d walk into the fertility treatment waiting room and boot up my laptop. Early morning appointments were standard, but when I came into the office a few minutes after 9 a.m., I felt my coworkers appraise me. “Late again?” their gazes seemed to suggest. Never mind that I’d been online for hours, that I’d spent the morning being poked and prodded, or that I once had to walk out on my doctor mid-exam to take an emergency work call in the hallway. I was in the middle of fertility treatments, and even at the healthcare tech startup where I spent my days on the executive team as a marketing leader, I felt I was somehow breaking an unspoken rule. Sure, fertility benefits for others was great. But for me? Not so much.
While my fertility journey was agonizing–multiple rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) over the course of two years and three jobs–I knew it wasn’t unique. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, women received 255,968 total cycles of IVF in 2017. The treatment is cripplingly expensive, too. You only need to scroll through a few posts on infertility support groups to hear of families applying for a second mortgage, liquidating their retirement funds, or taking out high-interest loans to pay for one more round of treatment (one round of IVF can run between $10,000 to $15,000).
And while fertility coverage has been a talking point in tech, finance, and law to drive up recruitment, less than 20% of professionals were fully covered for IVF in 2017. Not to mention that the logistics can be complicated. Stress, rigid schedules, and managers who won’t or can’t understand the timing of fertility treatments (which can lead to cancelled cycles) can lead to dismal success rates.
Data from FertilityIQ, a patient advocate website, suggests that women working in male-dominated industries such as tech, banking, and the law will have a 60% harder time getting pregnant than their counterparts. LGBTQ couples, too, face stress and stigma when it comes to pursuing fertility treatments and starting a family. Discriminatory coverage, for example, may exclude certain treatments for some same-sex couples.
During my tumultuous year at the startup, I felt constantly pulled in two directions. I wanted professional success. I wanted a child. I was living in an in-between of not being pregnant–yet–and simultaneously stressing about how my future family would be impacted by my job. After all, I’d disclosed that I was getting fertility treatments during the hiring process.
My future employers said they viewed this as a benefit; a way for me to directly connect and empathize with the consumer they were trying to reach. But on my second day on the job, I was asked to shift around some key appointments in order to hit essential shipping deadlines.
After a short time working at that healthcare startup, I was fired. It was a relief. I moved to a smaller tech startup, prioritizing culture above almost all else. While the benefits were typical of a startup (not great) and there was no maternity leave policy, the team and environment were great. Within nine months and one and a half rounds of IVF, I was pregnant. I knew there were multiple reasons for my pregnancy: My rock-star healthcare team of Dr. Jaime Knopman and Dr. Sheeva Talebian at CCRM. A husband who kept me laughing. Luck. But I think an equally key reason was working in a supportive environment where I knew my desire to have a family and excel at my career weren’t mutually exclusive.
Almost two years ago, when my daughter was only three months old, I got the offer to be the first global chief marketing officer (CMO) of OKCupid. It sounded like a dream job. But I knew that I needed to be brutally honest during the interview process and ask the questions I hadn’t asked at my last position. I had to know what the culture was like. Did leadership really create an environment that will support another fertility journey? And exactly what those benefits cover.
Their answers were great. As I write this, I’m six months’ pregnant with my second child. Maybe it’s not surprising that OKCupid–a company anchored in using tech to maximize human interaction–proved to be a place to offer what I was looking for, both personally and professionally. All day we talk about relationships, what makes for good ones, how we keep connecting people around the world.
Not only were the fertility benefits provided by Match Group incredible (of which OKCupid is a part), what was amazing was how supported I felt during the process. In other environments, the stress of coming up with excuses for why I was late or why I might be out of office gnawed at my gut. Here, I feel I can do my best work because my personal life isn’t shrouded in secrecy.
Fertility benefits are a great start. But fertility benefits are just one-half of the equation. Are people actually using those benefits? If not, data shows it’s not because they don’t need them. They may just be scared of the fallout from using them.
Encourage employees to use benefits. Educate managers about the fertility treatment process, so they’ll never ask a report if they have “any flexibility” in their appointment regimen (Short answer: No). If the goal is a great work product, a company needs to make employees feel supported and welcomed. And that support should extend to their families and future children, too.
Melissa Hobley is the global CMO of OkCupid.