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It has struck me recently as absurd the way in which women tell their employees that they are pregnant.  “I’m so sorry” seems to be a common offering.  Both absurd and somehow understandable when you consider the cultural backdrop in the workplace against which the conversation happens.  And yet I think there’s another conversation that needs tackling so that workplaces can become more inclusive – the ‘I’m trying to get pregnant (and I’m finding it really tough)’ one.

The workplace culture currently seems a long way away from this. In a culture that is increasingly competitive and demanding increased resilience, hours and commitment from its people, a focus on something that will one day temporarily take them away from the workplace seems problematic.

Add to this the fact that infertility is a deeply personal subject with huge potential for shame. Our wider culture, if not the culture in the workplace, prizes fertility as part of our gender identity. Not particularly helpful for a man that has been told he has a low sperm count or a woman who has been told they aren’t ovulating regularly. Add to that, talking about sperm, periods, ovulation and so on is just a bit uncomfortable, even with your closest friends sometimes. Of course people might not want to be open about it. It’s a shame storm waiting to happen.

However I’ve come to realize that we are losing out by not talking about this. By keeping silent we lose that opportunity to connect and realise our common humanity.  As soon as one person opens up about a miscarriage, others share their experience.  Suffering quietly means that you lose the opportunity for your peers to connect and support you through a truly testing time.  You create a further stress on top of a pretty stressful situation – trying to keep the appointments and your hurt quiet.  Your bosses continue to hurl work your way and wonder why you’re not too emotionally resilient these days – not realising you’re still coming to terms with the news that it’s unlikely you’ll ever conceive naturally.

And I’m beginning to sense that, through keeping quiet, we are missing the chance to build the kind of workplace that I think many of us would like to see. One in which we encourage people to bring their whole selves in to the workplace. The pressure of keeping your homosexuality to yourself has been well documented in the brilliant book ‘The Glass Closet’. What about the pressure of keeping your biggest disappointments quiet, and instead pretending that everything is just dandy?  Could we create a workplace in which we show empathy and compassion for the struggles in our wider lives? Is it possible to create a workplace in which having children is seen as essential for the human race to continue – and so is welcomed and supported?

I am fully aware that the workplace is not ready for this conversation at the moment. It would be great if more women shared their stories, and yet my call is for a cultural shift led from the top. One of the most memorable moments in my career was hearing a founding partner of one of the top creative agencies talk candidly about her fertility struggle in front of 100 industry women. My call is for leaders to humanize the workplace, to role model having the difficult conversations and to bring in empathy. Let’s create a workplace in which everyone can bring their whole selves in to the workplace and be valued for it.

The Daring Way for female leaders talks about being brave, learning empathy and your purpose in the workplace : http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-daring-waytm-for-female-leaders-tickets-16016355350?aff=ebsavedevents