Fostering an environment of equity and inclusion in the workplace is an ongoing practice. As an HR leader, you can provide inclusive policies and benefits for employees as they embark on their family-building journeys, but support can also extend beyond benefits. The language you use when discussing fertility, adoption, and surrogacy can help foster an inclusive environment, showing employees that you support them no matter their path to parenthood. 

Fertility is a broad topic that impacts people from all walks of life, and many people seek family-building support regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Inclusive language may not seem significant, but research shows it has an outsized impact on the workforce, especially for millennials. In a 2018 Deloitte report, millennial respondents said they would turn down companies if the language used in recruitment was not inclusive. 69% of respondents said they planned to stay with employers who prioritized diversity for at least five years, showing a direct correlation between inclusivity and retention.

Here is what you need to know about best practices for inclusive language around fertility.

Why is inclusive language important at work?

The workforce is more diverse than ever, with employees from all walks of life and across generations and racial groups. Words may seem like a small piece of more extensive efforts to create a diverse and equitable workplace, but it greatly affects how comfortable people are at work. According to behavioral scientists, language can inadvertently exclude marginalized groups or even reinforce harmful biases. While building out inclusive fertility benefits can help support diverse workplaces, using appropriate language can ensure that all employees feel welcomed and supported along their fertility journey.

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How to speak about fertility to different groups

Cisgender women and inclusive language for fertility

Fertility language historically centered on cisgender women, focusing on the idea that young, cisgender women were the ones primarily giving birth.  A growing number of older people are expanding their families, and how we talk about maternal age needs to reflect that. Many argue that terms like “geriatric pregnancy” and “advanced maternal age” are both ageist and ableist. To avoid stigmatizing employees as they pursue parenthood at any age, encourage employees to not refer to age at all when discussing pregnancy and fertility. 

Similarly, the terms often used for birth can be offensive or harmful to some. For example, there is still a stigma associated with cesarean sections, with some parents feeling shame for having a C-section. Terms like “natural birth” carry loaded connotations and aren’t widely-used medical terminology. There simply isn’t a need to attach any qualifier to childbirth. Similarly, pregnancies that do not result in delivery are often deemed “failed pregnancies,” but that can place unnecessary blame on an already-heartbreaking situation. As a possible alternative, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) uses the term “pregnancy loss” to describe several conditions where pregnancies are no longer viable.

Cisgender men and inclusive language for fertility

Few infertility resources and discussions today include cisgender men, focusing instead on cisgender women. Studies show that half of infertility cases can be attributed to male factors, yet research, support, treatment, and technology for infertility in cisgender men still lag. There is still a stigma around male infertility, and cisgender men may not feel comfortable seeking the care they need. 

Reducing male infertility stigma could be as simple as using gender-neutral terms when sharing resources and benefits. For example, instead of using “mother” or “female,” use words like “person” and “intended parent.” HR leaders can also consider highlighting resources specifically available to support men along their fertility journeys.  

Surrogacy and inclusive language for fertility

Surrogacy is a complex and sensitive topic surrounded by misinformation and confusion. As more people turn to surrogacy to help start or grow their families, having the correct language can help avoid a stressful or tense workplace situation. Colloquially, we often use “surrogate” as a catch-all term, but there are two different terms for people who carry babies:

  • A gestational carrier is a person with a womb who carries a pregnancy for someone else; they are often biologically unrelated to the baby. The embryo is formed with the egg and sperm of the donors, often the intended parents.
  • A surrogate donates their egg and carries the pregnancy for someone else

Nobody is under any obligation to discuss their surrogacy journey. But, if they choose to, it helps to know the correct terminology to refer to the people involved in the process. 

LGBTQIA+ People and Inclusive Language for Fertility

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of disinformation around parenthood in the LGBTQIA+ community. As an HR leader, you can model acceptance and inclusivity when discussing fertility to include all paths to parenthood. Here are a few things to consider when talking about fertility and the LGBTQIA+ community:

  • When presenting or discussing information about adoption, surrogacy or assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), ensure you are using gender-neutral verbiage and including LGBTQIA+ families.
  • Transgender people may opt for fertility treatments or preservation at any stage of their transition, including before receiving gender-affirming care, so your vocabulary around these benefits should reflect that. 
  • Transgender people may choose to utilize fertility treatments or services that align with the sex they were assigned at birth. This is why it’s essential to use inclusive terms like “pregnant people,” “person with a uterus,” or “birthing parent” when referring to pregnancy. 
  • Nonbinary people may also utilize fertility services to start and grow their families–replacing gendered terms like “mom” and “dad” with “parents” is a small yet effective way to be more inclusive. 

Inclusive language around fertility is consistently changing

Now, more than ever, people are looking for a workplace where they can show up as their true, authentic selves. Language that doesn’t reflect the full spectrum of your workforce can limit and exclude people, affecting morale and loyalty. It’s important to remember that inclusive language shifts over time, so HR leaders need to stay up-to-date on language to ensure they’re not making some employees feel unseen.

One way to begin to adapt language is by including gender-neutral terms alongside more traditional terms where possible (i.e., using “chestfeeding” with breastfeeding). You should also strive to remove outdated words that are exclusionary. For example, “mothering” assumes the mother is the primary caregiver for children— “parenting” or “caregiving” is more inclusive. 

Maven can help your company build inclusive family benefits

Maven, the leading digital family health benefit for employees as they start and raise their families, has dedicated resources and programs to support all employees. No matter their path to and through parenthood, employees can access support, education, and resources along their family-building journey and beyond.  

Get in touch today to learn more about how Maven can help you show up for your employees.

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