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May 14, 202011:57 AMOpen Mic

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Gender equality in family-building benefits coverage

Companies are evolving to offer a broader family-building benefit that accommodates a more diverse section of the employee population. Benefit packages that include adoption and surrogacy under a single “family-building benefit” are more helpful to today’s employee workforce. In an effort to attract and retain top talent, employers have expanded their family-building benefits to be inclusive of gay couples, transgender, and now men. Fertility is often focused on women but is also very much a man’s issue — up to 50 percent of infertility cases are attributed to men.

My personal journey with male-factor infertility

I lived through a very long and challenging journey with my wife on our way to having our four children. Most of the support was focused on the patient (my wife) as it should; however, I felt unprepared to emotionally support my wife while coping with the stresses of the process myself.  Having guidance on how to support my partner and even some relationship counseling would have been extremely beneficial. In addition to the myriad conditions my wife was facing that were impeding pregnancy, I had sperm motility issues. We did not have a benefit coverage to draw from to help me with my issues, and certainly no mental health support or guidance, and as a man it was not something I was comfortable speaking about. I was lost but no one could know.

“The conversations about fertility have historically centered around women. This has not only placed an undue burden on women, but has also resulted in men having fewer planning options and emotional support along their fertility journeys,” said Tom Smith, co-founder and CEO of Dadi, the leading at-home sperm testing and storage company.

In a 2017 study by the Fertility Network UK on the male experience with infertility, men reported feeling excluded and marginalized by the attention and focus directed toward their female partners. Men perceived a lack of emotional support services provided by health care professionals and the fertility clinics they encountered. In the study, Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network said, “Men are half of the fertility equation; when they cannot create a family they long for without medical help, they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do, yet our major new survey with Leeds Beckett University shows that men’s needs are far too often ignored, with support scarce before, during, and after fertility treatment. This is unacceptable; we hope this survey will challenge the silence around male infertility and facilitate more male support groups.”

Benefits supporting men

Today, the optics on family-building benefits offered by companies look very different from when my wife and I were trying to build our family. Paternity leave, which is a new benefit trend, allows men to take the same or similar leave available to women once the baby is born. Many companies offer attractive, if not competitive, paternity leave packages to convince prospective talent to choose their company over another. Companies understand that a benefit with personalized clinical advocacy and emotional support for both the patient and the partner is essential. This means that the woman is getting the support she needs, but now the male partner is, too. Employers offering benefits that include emotional support for men, like our new WIN for HIM program, driven in part by my experience of not having the support I needed when my wife and I were trying to conceive, is a tectonic shift from assuming that male-factor infertility is silent, or nonexistent, to offering equal support for both men and women. The ability to plan ahead for a family has also come a long way, with services men can draw from to start their family planning early. Men can now test their sperm and benefit from behavioral health and clinical advocacy without leaving their own home. At-home sperm testing allows men to not have to visit a medical facility, something few men want to do, and not feel a sense of shame or exclusion when seeking help.

The emotional process of going through infertility is very real for both men and women. Employers who are supporting today’s modern family through infertility, be that women, men, straight, gay, or single-parent family planning, understand that they have the very unique position to make this family-building journey less stressful for those involved. A benefits package that covers the wider swath of needs for today’s employee population makes a company both attractive to talent and illustrates that the company is a partner in the employee’s personal journey as much as professional. This type of support is immeasurable to employees who are seeking the highest level of assistance when planning a family.

Peter Nieves serves as the chief commercial officer for WINFertility. He is responsible for the profitable growth, product strategy, and expansion at WIN. Peter has over 25 years of experience in the benefits consulting and P&C industry.

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