Welsh Water set to become first fertility friendly employer in Wales

19 December 2023

Welsh Water has committed to become the first fertility friendly employer with the work it is doing to provide exemplar support to colleagues who may be facing fertility struggles.

The not-for-profit water company, which has around 3,500 employees, has partnered with Fertility Matters, who provide awareness to organisations on how fertility issues affect colleagues and their organisations. Growing a family is a fundamental part of many peoples’ lives which can have a devastating impact on those whose journey isn’t as easy. With the reality of this challenge is rarely recognised and often misunderstood by employers and many people suffer in silence Fertility struggles can affect as many as one in seven individuals, and one in six couples, of working age.

Sâra, Capital Performance Manager at Welsh Water shared her experience: “Fertility is still very much a taboo subject, inside and outside of work. Welsh Water’s commitment to being a fertility friendly employer has given me the trust and confidence that I will continue to be supported through my fertility journey at work, as I have been so far.”

Research from Fertility Matters revealed that 74% of individuals surveyed didn’t feel that the topic of fertility was recognised in their organisation, and 61% didn’t feel confident in talking to their employer about trying for a baby. This matters, when a staggering 68% of respondents felt that their treatment had a significant impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing and 69% took sick leave during treatment.

Fertility treatment can be all-consuming on both a physical and emotional level. There are currently no automatic rights in the UK for workers who require fertility treatment as the only way to build their family, leading to many feeling the need to hide their treatment from their employer and face fears relating to their employment.

Sâra explained how her journey requires compassion, support and understanding from her manager and team:

“Welsh Water has been understanding and flexible with my IVF journey in terms of me taking time for appointments, egg collection, implantation surgeries and time off after my miscarriage. They have also provided a forum for people going through IVF at work which has helped us create a community where we feel safe to talk and express how we feel.

“They also ran an open session to all colleagues where I talked through my journey and shared my experience which encouraged further fertility conversations with other employees. The people I work with have been extremely supportive and I’m lucky I have a supportive team around me.”

Talking about fertility is arguably even more of a taboo subject among men. With Welsh Water having a 70% male workforce, Craig, Capital Project Manager at Welsh Water explained why supporting men through their fertility journey matters: “Fertility issues are a taboo topic, and it’s not something you often hear men talking openly about. It can be so personal to an individual and/or a couple, which makes it difficult to openly talk about this subject. Even with state-of-the-art facilities, the availability of experts in reproductive science, and varying treatment options available – my experience so far is that you are not guaranteed a successful outcome. This has been hard to accept and could very well be the situation at the end of our journey in trying to conceive. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

Stephne Puddy, Talent Partner and Inclusivity Lead at Welsh Water, who is the driving force behind the cultural move said: “There are many reports and stats available to show the number of people that are impacted by fertility in the UK. Challenges in building a family can impact anyone. Historically, infertility and its associated problems (such as recurrent miscarriage) is a highly taboo topic and quite often people are not open about discussing it. This is due to a range of reasons, but shame and embarrassment are two of the most common.”

“Last month, we launched our internal fertility guidance, but I didn’t want it to end there. Following conversations with our employee-led network groups, I wanted to be able to help to support colleagues by raising awareness this taboo subject as well as sharing resources to support those who are impacted. We are excited to be the first water company in the UK and Welsh company to sign up with Fertility Matters and we are committed to being a fertility friendly employer.”

Natalie Silverman, co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work, added: “We’re thrilled to be working with Welsh Water on their journey to become a Fertility Friendly employer. It's incredibly rewarding to see the company's dedication to supporting its employees in their path to parenthood. Our partnership will empower Welsh Water to create an inclusive and understanding workplace for those navigating fertility challenges or family planning. We’re so proud to be a part of this transformative process and look forward to the positive impact it will have on employees at Welsh Water."

Welsh Water provides a range of support to colleagues facing fertility challenges including Fertility E-learning for managers to support their teams, and awareness e-learning for all colleagues plus an internal support community who meet regularly and exchange resources.