For the last few years, the City has been on a PR drive: trying to give its careers a makeover and prevent a brain drain to wealthy tech giants, determined to lure the brightest graduates and retain their sharpest talent. The result is that perks have moved beyond pay — and into family planning.
Banking was the sector which saw the vast majority of working mothers quitting after maternity leave — usually their first, always their second — because they wanted to see their kid(s) more than occasionally. Now, far from saying goodbye to your life outside work, for those facing fertility problems, a City job could become the most affordable route to creating new life.
Goldman Sachs is leading the charge: the “vampire squid” Wall Street bank that once gave women just two weeks off for giving birth has announced it will pay prospective parents on its payroll up to $20,000 (about £15,500 in the UK) for fertility treatments. It says the initiative is aimed at helping same-sex couples who want to become parents, women who are struggling to conceive and those who decide to have children later in life.
It’s Goldman’s latest attempt to boost equality and close the pay gap between men and women. It has a long way to go, given its British business on average paid women 51 per cent less per hour than men last year.
So over the last two years the bank has also rolled out free emergency nannies for any sick children of its 6,000 UK staff, become the first UK firm to pay for breastfeeding mothers to courier expressed milk back to their babies if travelling for work, and offered to pay for its London staff to have gender-reassignment surgery and IVF treatment.
The Wall Street bank is following US precedent. In the States, as many as five per cent of firms with more than 500 staff — including Facebook, Google, Uber, Intel, eBay, Netflix, Spotify, Time Warner and Snapchat — offer egg freezing as a benefit to female employees.
It’s a growing trend in London, too. Asset management giant Blackrock offers its staff up to £15,000 for egg freezing plus up to three years of egg storage. Its spokesperson Tracy Truelove said Blackrock introduced the benefit because it’s “committed to helping our employees thrive at work and in life … including support for building a family.”
Apple and Facebook have been offering London staff subsidised egg freezing worth up to £16,000 for the last two years, while Japan’s biggest lender, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, has an official annual leave allowance for women at its Barbican office who are going through fertility treatment. Its head of HR in Europe, John Williams, says that “providing our colleagues with a supportive environment is one of our primary aims. We appreciate that fertility treatments in particular can be very intensive. Being able to offer colleagues the opportunity to take leave is in keeping with our overall philosophy.”
For many infertile women, financial fertility benefits could represent their only way to circumvent the postcode lottery of access to IVF on the NHS; egg freezing, meanwhile, is usually only available privately except for women going through fertility-affecting medical treatment, such as for cancer. The egg-freezing process, which involves daily hormone injections before a retrieval procedure, costs around £3,500, plus egg storage costs; thawing and implantation in the womb later on can be another £3,000.
At Goldman, employees access the firm’s fertility stipend by first visiting a GP stationed inside the bank’s massive £1 billion Square Mile HQ. They’re then referred to a specialist via the company’s private medical scheme. They pay for their fertility costs up front, before being reimbursed. Goldman isn’t imposing any tie-ins, so newly pregnant employees could leave having had their fertility bills paid, and it’s offering the benefits to all staff, regardless of how long they’ve been at the bank.
The move was requested by staff, according to Sally Boyle, Goldman Sachs’s head of HR. “We ran a survey on our benefits earlier this year. One piece of feedback was a ‘pathway to parenthood’ stipend: people wanted us to think about egg retrieval, donation and surrogacy and interest was particularly strong from within our affinity women’s network and from our LGBT+ network, because for same-sex partners we hadn’t covered that before.” Boyle claims the initiative is another side of the “family-friendly reinvention of banking”, adding: “We’re seeing a shift in the way in which our men and women are thinking about parenthood, and we were keen to ensure people had the flexibility to manage their careers and personal lives. The egg retrieval [allowance] gives people who have left children until later in life, or who are struggling with fertility, some flexibility.” Cynics claim such payments are another way for Goldman — as well as Apple, Blackrock and the other London firms offering to foot the bill for staff fertility treatment — to buy their employees’ loyalty as well as muffling the ticking of biological clocks.
Critics particularly point out that egg-freezing isn’t a guaranteed way to prolong fertile years. The UK’s regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, reports that only nine per cent of IVF cycles work for women aged 40 to 42; between 43 and 44, the success rate drops to three per cent.
But the perk is feeding through to the job market, fast. A survey of 1,000 HR professionals by jobs site LinkedIn found that two thirds think that fertility support in the workplace should be considered a statutory right, and 82 per cent said that firms are expecting to increase their benefits in the next year, potentially including egg-harvesting and freezing services.
At Goldman, Boyle says both female and male potential employees at graduate campus recruitment events are already talking about their new fertility stipend.“Benefits packages are part of how individuals assess which employer they’re going to apply to; part of our reason to do this is to be leading in this field,” she says. “I think other organisations will look at us, think about whether this gives us a competitive edge over them and decide they should offer similar benefits.”
LinkedIn started paying employees’ fertility bills at its London office and others in Europe in January, after doing so for years in the US. Lisa Finnegan, its senior HR director, helped inspire the development: after going through traumatic miscarriages and rounds of IVF that didn’t work out, she ensured the firm’s fertility support goes beyond the £23,000 it offers to staff to pay for fertility or adoption costs during their tenure at the tech firm.
“I thought it was great that we were doing financial support, but wanted to also think about emotional support for employees.
“My own experience at a previous firm was that I hadn’t talked to my managers or colleagues about going through my first miscarriage or IVF, and that affected my mental health.
“When I did open up about it at work, doing so was very difficult, but really helped. So at LinkedIn we put together a package that helps managers know how to respond if an employee comes to them to talk about fertility issues, and how they can put together flexible working if required for all the appointments. We also offer employees immediate access to counselling, as well as the [stipend].
“It’s important that people feel they can bring their authentic self to work. Leaving a huge emotional problem at the door isn’t realistic.”
LinkedIn also demands no tie-in period for staff using the benefit: “It’s about how we can help families get started — we wouldn’t want people to feel they were then tied to the company,” Finnegan adds. “Having said that, we have seen people being incredibly appreciative, and staying with us because of that loyalty.”