Infertility is a global issue, and so is the need for accessible family-building care. WHO estimates that 48 million couples and 186 million people live with infertility worldwide, but couples struggling with infertility aren’t the only people seeking care. Single parents by choice, same-sex couples, and people with certain medical conditions also need additional support to start a family through treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI), as well as adoption or surrogacy.
Employers with global workforces are becoming aware of the challenges their employees face when building their families. According to a survey by Maven, 32% of companies plan to expand their family-building benefits over the next year. However, for companies with global employees, administering these benefits can be more complicated. Every country and culture has different laws and regulations that employers must navigate to provide culturally-sensitive family-building care to their global employees.
Understanding the global family-building landscape
Wherever your employees are in the world, they need help accessing and paying for services to build their families, including fertility treatments, adoption, and surrogacy. Some countries restrict access to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and adoption for single individuals, same-sex couples, and/or couples who aren’t legally married. Additionally, in many countries, surrogacy is not legal or falls in a legal ‘gray zone’. These types of restrictions are more commonly seen in the Middle East (including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE), some countries in Asia (including China and Singapore), and several countries in Eastern Europe (including Poland and Slovakia).
If they are able to access family-building care, it’s still likely that employees won’t receive full funding for these services. Some countries, like the UK, offer partial coverage or rebates for fertility care through national health programs—but these reimbursements come with extensive stipulations that often exclude same-sex couples or those without medically-diagnosed infertility. Other countries, like the United States, leave employees reliant on their employer-sponsored benefits to cover services—otherwise, they’ll pay for the expensive treatments and processes out-of-pocket.
Employees need support, even if they’re not asking for it
Although infertility is a universal issue, stigma often prevents people affected by infertility from speaking up to their family, friends, or even their employers about their needs. For example, studies have found that social stigma around infertility and the pressure to have children is high in east Asian countries, including Japan and China. When surveyed, 25% of married Japanese women say that couples are only socially accepted once they have a child, contributing to the stigma surrounding those who struggle with infertility.
Because of stigma and cultural norms, employees are often afraid to voice their struggles, leaving many employers unaware of the need—and opportunity—to make a difference. For example, a recent study of Japanese companies found that 70% provided no support system for employees undergoing fertility treatments. As a result, many employees struggle in silence, emotionally and financially, throughout their fertility journey and into parenthood.
Employers can offer global family-building support
Despite local regulations and social stigma, employers can provide comprehensive family-building support for all global employees. Company-sponsored family-building care helps employees achieve their dream of starting or growing their families—and it can enable employers to reach hiring and DEI goals. One survey found that 68% of millennials consider fertility benefits when choosing an employer, and a WTW survey found that 71% of employers say that improving their fertility benefits supports their DEI objectives. Employers can make an impact by:
Creating safe spaces for employee feedback
To understand the family-building needs of a global employee population, employers should start by encouraging open dialogue between employees and HR teams. Linda Shaffer, CPOO at Checkr, learned that creating a safe space for feedback helped the company to understand employees' unique issues. “We've found that the best way to navigate any cultural sensitivities is to have an open and honest dialogue with our employees,” says Shaffer. “We ask them about their needs and how they feel we can best support them, which has been a great way to get feedback and ensure that we're providing the fertility benefits that our employees want and need.”
When soliciting feedback from global employees, anonymous surveys can be an especially effective way of encouraging participation. In places where privacy is valued and social stigma exists, employees will likely appreciate a way to express their needs and opinions without having to share their names or positions.
Designing equitable benefits while respecting local regulations
After collecting feedback, companies should structure their benefits to provide equitable support for all employees while understanding the varying local regulations—which means they may have to get creative with benefits administration. In countries that limit who can access ART or use a surrogate, companies can offer travel reimbursement and paid time off to allow employees to seek cross-border care in a less restrictive country.
Similarly, companies can choose to extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples, even when it’s not legally required or the local cultural norm. For example, Nintendo Japan recently announced that they will offer the same benefits to employees in domestic partnerships with a same-sex partner as those in opposite-sex relationships, despite gay marriage being illegal in Japan.
Supporting a global workforce with Maven
Partnering with a family benefits platform with extensive experience in administering global family-building benefits can help companies navigate changing local laws while providing equitable care to all employees. As the leading global family benefits platform, Maven helps employees from countries around the world navigate their fertility journey with 24/7 access to fertility care providers and adoption/surrogacy coaches, referrals to global fertility clinics, and expense support. Maven’s platform also extends beyond fertility care, supporting global members through pregnancy, into parenthood, and during menopause.
“Maven empowers our employees to seek the care they need and gives them access to fertility benefits and support, no matter where they are in the world,” says Shaffer. “They have a team of experts who can provide personalized support and guidance to our employees, which is a great resource for employees who may not feel comfortable discussing their family-building needs with HR.”
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