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Fertility in the Workplace Miniseries: How Can Law Firms Do Better?

The ‘Fertility in the Workplace’ Miniseries, featuring Natalie Sutherland and Somaya Ouazzani,  delves into how fertility in the workplace can be addressed more openly and how law firms can do a better job at acknowledging the challenges faced around fertility. The series looks into tackling fertility issues as a lawyer, in addition to family planning and becoming parents.

Natalie Sutherland is a Partner at Burgess Mee, a Family Law Firm and their first fertility officer. Natalie has experience handling surrogacy matters, based in the UK and internationally. She deals with surrogacy, assisted reproduction law and donor conception. Natalie advises clients on co-parenting as well as known donor agreements. Recently, she has joined the Board of Trustees of Progress Educational Trust, a charity advancing public understanding about human genetics, embryology and stem cell research.

Somaya Ouazzani is the CEO and Founder of Mimoza Fleur, a boutique executive search firm, in the legal sector. Somaya was previously a family and divorce lawyer, at Kingsley Napley, and Russell-Cooke LLP. Somaya also worked as a Senior Consultant, specialising in legal recruitment with Magic Circle and US law firms. Whilst working with senior female lawyers, Somaya gained a unique perspective of how professional women view planning family. Also, how firms are beginning to enhance their health packages to include fertility treatments.

In the second minisode of the series, Rob, Natalie and Somaya discuss the following:

  • What law firms need to do to address fertility, family planning and parenting;
  • How law firms can create a safe space for everyone to discuss fertility in the working environment.

Transcript

00:06 Robert Hanna:

Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast. I’m your host Rob Hanna. I’m delighted to bring you all the Fertility in the Workplace miniseries featuring Natalie Sutherland and Somaya Ouazzani. Natalie is a partner at Burgess Mee a family law firm and their first fertility officer. Natalie has experience handling surrogacy matters based in the UK and internationally. She deals with surrogacy, assisted reproduction law and donor conception. Natalie advises clients on co-parenting as well as known donor agreements. Recently, she’s joined the Board of Trustees of Progress Educational Trust, a charity advancing public understanding about human genetics, embryology and stem cell research. Somaya is the CEO and Founder of Mimoza Fleur, a boutique executive search firm in the legal sector. Somaya was previously a family and divorce lawyer at Kingsley Napley and Russell-Cooke LLP. Somaya also worked as a senior consultant specializing in legal recruitment with Magic Circle and US law firms. Whilst working with senior female lawyers, Somaya gained a unique perspective on how professional women view family planning. Also, how law firms are beginning to enhance their health packages to include fertility treatments. The miniseries will delve into how fertility in the workplace can be addressed more openly, and how law firms can do a better job at acknowledging the challenges based around fertility. The series looks into tackling fertility issues as a lawyer, in addition to family planning and becoming parents.

 

01:45 Robert Hanna:

So last week, we discussed why we need to acknowledge the issue of fertility in the workplace. But this week, we’ll be delving into why law firms need to do better and how they can tackle this issue to help make discussions around fertility issues, or having a family more widely accepted and understood. So welcome back, Natalie and Somaya. Somaya, coming to you, what is the fundamental issue regarding fertility in law firms?

 

02:14 Somaya Ouazzani:

The fact that firms pretend these issues don’t exist, or just fail to respond to them.

 

02:22 Robert Hanna:

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I really appreciate you sort of hitting that head on. And then Natalie, from, from your perspective, do you think firms promote a false promise of having a career and family side by side?

 

02:39 Natalie Sutherland:

Well, we’re always told aren’t we, women can have it all or can’t have it all. There is this, we want to be mothers, we don’t want to be mothers, but we want careers, we don’t want careers. But those that want to be mothers and what careers, have to juggle the two together. And if you’re a lawyer in a law firm, there is a lot of expectation, you are on that career path, you want to make partner, you want to make equity. And, and if you want to take time out to have maternity leave, then that is time out of your career. But if you add to that, but I mean, if you have the baby, if you’re able to conceive easily, then you have your pregnancy, and you go off on maternity leave. But if you are struggling to have a child, then you are going to be undergoing IVF treatment alongside your career. And that is where you need to either keep it secret, because you don’t want your employers to know, you don’t want them to think that you are having children, because of course you don’t have to tell anybody that you’re planning to have a child. There’s no requirement to do that. So, so, anyone that’s going through fertility struggles are going to have to battle that decision. Do I tell or do I not tell? And a lot of that will come down to who you’re telling. So if you have a line manager and employer who is open, and perhaps discusses their own family issues, and you can feel like you can confide in them, then perhaps that makes life easier. If you have a culture or an environment where personal issues are just not spoken about, then you’re going to have a much more difficult time. So, so yeah, so I think with law firms, what we are trying to create, is this opening up of that culture, so that as Somaya said, firms are acknowledging that this is happening, that people want to become parents, they want to be, start a family and have a career. So let’s look at how we can help both.

 

04:46: Robert Hanna:

Yeah, really, really well said. So many important points that you, you touched on there. And Somaya you know, just building on that. What do firms need to do to address fertility, family planning and parenting?

 

05:01 Somaya Ouazzani:

So I think it’s, I think it’s a combination of things. I think the first is to start with by openly acknowledging that this is an issue, that people want to have families that empirically, people in law tend to have fit families much later. And therefore that can bring with it its own challenges. I think they need to identify that individuals in law generally are in very high pressure, high stress environments. And so how all of that compounds, ones fertility challenges is something that needs to be thought quite carefully about. And fundamentally, it’s about creating a safe space. So that when one is talking about, for example, what their career trajectory might look like, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, well, at this point here, in this point here, I, you know, it’s within my contemplation to have a family. How do we make sure that the two objectives are, you know, aligned and supported? We’ve got to get rid of this, this taboo. There is this really ugly culture and atmosphere of there being you know, anything, pregnancy related being a taboo. I remember vividly from my own experiences as a lawyer. When I, when I had my ectopic pregnancy in 2014, I actually wasn’t trying to conceive a child I, you know, I was only recently married, it wasn’t on my radar. But I remember when I was rushed to hospital, on the way there, the one key thing in my mind was, everyone’s going to think I want to have a baby. Everybody’s going to think that actually, now, I’ve got married that the, the big priority for me is having a family. And so you know, all of a sudden, you know, I’m not going to be, you know, considered as a serious contender in the department. Whether that was a me problem or not. I think fundamentally, it speaks to the environment in which one is working, and having good role models and having individuals that actually bring these conversations to the fore, notwithstanding how difficult they might be. And how do we go about doing that? I think it’s a number of things. I think we’re seeing firms like Howard Kennedy in the city develop pregnancy loss policies, and fertility policies, which have been revolutionary, they’re groundbreaking, they’re acknowledging that if somebody has a failed embryo transfer, that is a loss in and of itself. And time is required to be able to grieve for that. For anybody on a fertility journey, of you know, however, that might look, just knowing that that sort of compassion and respite and acknowledgement exists is massive, and can make a really significant difference to how one’s journey unfolds. You are seeing firms like Freshfields taking some really positive steps in the right direction to, not only providing fertility support, so things like IVF funding, but actually looking at what if that doesn’t transpire as you hoped, what if your objectives don’t materialize? So firms are having to talk as well. And certainly from my perspective, I’ve seen that it’s initiatives like that, that are hugely powerful retention tools, and also recruitment tools.

 

08:09 Robert Hanna:

Yeah, no, absolutely. And thanks so much for sharing that. And I want to really highlight things that firms could be doing, Natalie, so coming to you, and I love that you we’ve talked and brought to the floor, creating safe spaces. But Natalie, how can firms use education and training to teach their workers about fertility issues?

 

08:29 Natalie Sutherland:

So at Burgess Mee, we have now in a partner’s meeting, we were discussing this very, very issue. I shared my own personal story with my fellow partners. And, and also, I wanted them to talk about the elephant in the room, which is basically our stuff, at the junior level, are all women. They’re all in their late 20s, early 30s, they’re all in relationships, you know, at some point, they are going to want to start to have children. And, and being a new partner at the firm, I also wanted to discuss a, a creating this culture, not that it wasn’t there already, but just to be overt about it. So basically saying to the younger staff, that, that we, we support you in your career, but we also support you, if you want to build a family, so that nobody feels like they can’t discuss wanting in children. Nobody feels that they can’t discuss, oh my god, I got pregnant, you know, and then worrying about what people will think about them if they got pregnant. For it to be just a relaxation of going well, I work for a firm where if I tell them I’m pregnant, they’re going to be happy for me. So, so that’s that’s what we wanted to, to create. And not all firms are like that, not all firms will, will give, will create that culture so that people feel like that. And I absolutely wanted that for, for my younger self because I felt that fear and Somaya said the exact same thing as what she felt, that fear that oh, now I’ve got married people are just going to think that I’m just going to go and have babies and never come back to work, or but that’s, that’s when you get pregnant. And then obviously, there’s the other side of the coin is trying to get pregnant. So I discussed the article that Somaya wrote, actually, I shared it with my firm. And immediately I was contacted by two of the, the younger solicitors to say they really enjoyed reading the article. And actually, they potentially are going to have their own fertility issues. And they shared that with me. And I was really humbled actually, by that because again, it’s very, very personal thing. And when I sort of shared it confidentially, not naming the people, but with my partners to say, this is potentially on our radar. I think it would be good to, you know, to be discussing this. And Pete Burgess, my partner, he basically said, well, Natalie, why don’t you be the women’s officer. So we already have a wellness officer, that’s Kirstie Morris, she does a fantastic job of being able to create that pastoral care for our staff, because we find that’s really important as well. But on this very specific issue, where, you know, I have, I have my own, my own experience that comes to it, I have a passion for, for it, that, that this women’s officer role was fantastic. I just thought it was a great, great idea. And then we later renamed it for to, fertility officer specifically, because it’s not just a women’s issue. So if we ever have younger, male staff, then it would relate to them as well. Because males, males can have infertility issues, want to be supporting their partners within infertility issues. So we don’t want it to be taboo for them either. So, so having a fertility officer role, I think is really important. I’m not sure if we’re the first one to do it. Certainly we’re not the first because we also have fertility policies and baby loss policies, following the, the bigger firms that have done it. But, but my role is there to signal to the younger staff that there is someone dedicated for them to talk to if they have these issues. And, and it’s non judgmental.

 

12:05 Robert Hanna:

Yeah. And I love that the role of the fertility officer and, and all the work that you’re doing, and you’re just really grateful that you’re, you’re highlighting this, that you know, firms are taking action because you know, today we are talking about how firms can do better. And Somaya you gave some great examples of a couple of firms previously that are taking action. But you know, let’s talk more generally across all firms, do you think firms should be educating themselves about fertility treatments and offering them to workers, as part of their health care packages?

 

12:33 Somaya Ouazzani:

Yes, I do. Absolutely. I think that any firm worth their salt should be offering some sort of fertility service as part of their overall wellbeing. So whether that might be investigation scans, blood tests, whatever it might be, I think that their benefits should include specific days leave for certain treatments. I think that there also needs to be some very focused time given to fertility at work coaching. We’re now seeing that as a very interesting niche that’s developing in the market. So lots of firms have over the last five or 10 years, focused on bringing into their businesses, coaches that specialize and specialize in workplace wellbeing. Because we’ve seen the pandemic that was burnout. And now actually, we are finding some very broad, bold and brave women talking about their fertility struggles. And so slowly, slowly firms are responding. But I think what they also need to do is make sure that they are partnering themselves with very responsible recruitment firms. And I think that’s where a lot of this starts. And at Mimoza Fleur, I make it an absolute sort of prerequisite to any candidate by having conversation with a firm. I’m provided with a, with a full breakdown of what the maternity benefits are, what the shared parental leave is, what the paternity benefits are, whether, you know, that’s not on the instruction of my candidates. That’s because I want to be able to see how they differ to other firms in the market. And just by actually being a little bit more candid and cavalier about that, it’s normalizing the conversation. Whereas three or four years ago, if I said, no, can I please see a copy of your maternity paternity benefits, instantly, people’s ears prick up. And what they want to say is, you know, is that on your candidates agenda? Is that, you know, within the, you know, the foreseeable future, can we have some, you know, and there’s a subtext, there’s a hidden message there somewhere. Now actually, I’m finding that by just, you know, being quiet sort of, you know, just having the gumption to say, you know, I’d like to see that to discuss it with my candidate. They don’t, they don’t usually batter an eyelid.

 

14:35 Robert Hanna:

Yeah. And again, such wonderful points and you’re absolutely right, you know, we want to make the change. We want to see law firms do better. It should just be you know, there should be no hidden message, messages behind that. So I would just like to say thank you so much, once again, Natalie and Somaya for today’s minisode, really enjoyed it. There tends to be lots more that law firms can be doing. And we’ll be back next week with a special guest we have Emma Menzies, who is a coach and natural language processing practitioner. And we’ll be talking all about fertility coaching. But for now from all of us on the Legally Speaking Podcast over and out.

 

15:13 Robert Hanna:

This week’s review comes from Ben F787. He says brilliant, a really unique and informative, yet informal an enjoyable experience for anyone interested in the legal sector. Thank you so, so much for your kind words, Ben. We really really appreciate it from all of our team here at the Legally Speaking Podcast. We’re grateful.

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