Today on the RecruitingDaily Podcast, we welcome Jennifer Bealer of Progyny to discuss creating a pregnancy loss leave policy for your employees. This is a vulnerable topic affecting people at scale, and it deserves attentive measure. We are truly grateful to have Jennifer with us for this episode.
Jennifer is currently the general counsel of Progyny, previously serving as a health care associate at Ropes & Gray. In addition, she is on the University of Pennsylvania alumni board and a long-serving board member for a non-profit organization that focuses on funding research for a rare form of blood cancer.
Progyny is a leading U.S. fertility benefits management company with a goal to redefine fertility and family building benefits. They are set to prove that comprehensive and inclusive fertility solutions can simultaneously benefit employers, patients and physicians. Unfortunately, loss affects 1 in 4 pregnancies, so Progyny works with employers to bring this out of the shadows, validate loss and create safe (and enough) space for grief.
The big questions we answer today: How should companies prepare themselves and their employees for the possibility of pregnancy loss? What does the stigmatization of miscarriage grief look like, and how can we fix this? Have pregnancy loss plans measurably served companies?
There’s a lot more, but you have to tune in to learn. Make sure to drop your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 30 minutes
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Jennifer is currently the General Counsel of Progyny, a leading fertility benefits management company in the US. Progyny is redefining fertility and family building benefits, proving that a comprehensive and inclusive fertility solution can simultaneously benefit employers, patients, and physicians.Follow Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Jennifer on from Progyny, and we’re going to talk about creating a pregnancy loss, leave policy for your employees. And I can’t wait to actually unpack this and get her guidance and expertise on this policy in particular. So, Jennifer, would you do us the favor, audience a favor and introduce both yourself and Progyny?
Yeah. Good to meet everyone. And looking forward to this conversation. My name’s Jennifer Bealer. I’m General Counsel at Progyny. Progyny is a fertility benefits company. So we work with large employers to provide them with fertility benefits. So looking forward to speaking.
So my wife and I went through fertility treatments for both of our boys. And so I’m familiar with the process. None of it’s easy. When you’re in high school, they make it seem like you can get pregnant just by walking by somebody. But as you get older, things aren’t as easier, turns out. So we’re talking about the opposite of that. So obviously what the company does is a benefit. And I think just a really, really great benefit for employers to be able to extend to all their employees and help them through that process. But we’re talking about today, we’re talking about, well, what happens when things don’t go exactly as planned? What should companies prepare themselves to do and what should they prepare their employees and how should they help?
Right. Right. Exactly. And while Progyny is a fertility benefits company and should also be acknowledged that, like you and your wife, one in eight couples do have to go through some form of fertility treatment in order to have a child. So we are very much at the intersection of some of these topics that aren’t necessarily discussed as often as they should be. And there may be stigma attached to some of these topics that shouldn’t be. So just being able to have an honest conversation while we’re talking about what you said is that opposite of fertility, the two sometimes can go hand in hand. Couples will go through fertility treatments and the first attempt may not be successful. And at Progyny we do have excellent outcomes, but these two topics are intertwined in a lot of ways.
A hundred percent. And you know, it’s one of those things that every couple that goes through this is going to be on their own journey. They’re going to face all of these things together. But the idea that when things don’t go as planned or the first attempt doesn’t, third attempt doesn’t, et cetera, you know, what can a company do to make sure, that the employee, their wellbeing, their mental health is also being kind of addressed?In the case of loss or miscarriage, et cetera, I don’t know of a lot of companies because, you used the word stigma, which is exactly the word I was thinking of taboo, but I don’t know of a lot of companies that are actually thinking about this thought. We celebrate birth. We celebrate certain things and we just kind of normalized and mainstreamed a lot of these types of things.
But when somebody goes through something as personal as a miscarriage, they might not talk about it. They might not feel comfortable talking about it and the company might not have a way of interacting with them. So how do we move it out of the shadows for everybody involved? How do we move it out of the shadows and create a safe space for people to talk about it?
Yeah. That’s an excellent question. And I think taking the first step as a company, by offering a pregnancy loss leave necessarily brings it out of the shadows, right? So we’re saying, “Look, we know that one in four does suffer from some form of loss.” We know that this happens. We’re acknowledging that this is very much part of life, part of people’s experiences. And instead of requiring them to come to HR and say, make something up, we can say, “Look, we acknowledge that you’ve had a loss. We acknowledge this through leave, and we are making it easier for you to acknowledge that and take the space that you need to grieve, to see how you feel both mentally and physically.” And I think that alone, by having a policy like this, does bring it out into the open in certain ways.
What we’ve done also is we have surveyed and spoken to individuals at our company who have gone through this and have been vocal about their pregnancy loss, about what are the best practices? What would make sense? So having that input, having that feedback, and having a company that will listen to you is really a very big first step that I think employees appreciate.
Yeah. I think, backing up to when we say loss, loss is a continuum, especially if your first attempt doesn’t go well, that’s not necessarily a loss, but there’s a lot of emotion that’s attached to something like that. If you’re doing in vitro or IVF or whatever procedure you’re doing, if the first or second or third or fifth doesn’t, each time there’s an emotional toll. And again, those are just kind of simple ones. So when we’re talking about loss, we’re not just talking about miscarriages and that type of loss. There’s all kinds of micro losses that can happen through this process.
When we talk about policy and because you’re General Counsel, you’re obviously pretty gifted at probably writing legal language and helping people through writing policy. What are some of the components that people should think about and maybe even some of the best practices people should be thinking about in terms of creating a policy like this?
Yeah. So even taking a step back from writing the policy itself and the tactical components of that, I think step one for a company is when they are looking to put something in place, soliciting feedback from their employees about what would make sense for them. So this is not a one size fits all solution. And I think it’s important to fit the solution for your employees. Another element is to make sure that you are clear on what you are including. And one of the things that has come up from a policy perspective and Duckworth has, as you know, introduced a policy around having pregnancy loss leave at the federal level. For us, part of that was also for us being more inclusive about leave. And what that means is that for our policy, we include things like failed adoption matches, failed loss related to surrogacy arrangements.
So there are a lot, to your point, there are a lot of elements of loss and because we’re in the fertility space, but also in the space where we acknowledge there are various paths to parenthood, some individuals cannot have a child via their own pregnancy, for example. So thinking through, at a policy level, how inclusive your company can be and the different elements of loss that are important, so who it affects. And the other component is that it can affect individuals multiple times. So our leave acknowledges that and individuals have five days each time this could happen. So I think those elements are important to think through at the policy level and then tailoring that to what your company’s comfortable with based on feedback from employees.
Yeah, it’s interesting because every company, obviously their employee population cares about things in a little bit different ways. So I love that you emphasize, you know what, check with your audience, check with your employees and find out what’s important to them so that you make sure that you mirror what’s important to them. You can constantly be getting that feedback so that you’re always right-sizing policies. I love that. I love also that you had tied it to leave and thinking about inclusion and making it more inclusive. And again, I think that that opens up a lot of other doors for people to think all about fertility or infertility in different ways or parenthood or paths to parenthood, I think is a phrase that you use. I love that.
I also would say that people might have chalked this up to as a female issue, but I can go ahead and demystify that no, it impacts all players, all folks involved. And so again, maybe men are maybe less reticent to talk about it, maybe that’s true, but there’s an impact there too. And so I love the idea of thinking about loss and leave and opening up the aperture and saying, “You know what? Everyone’s got a different path, a different journey.” What are some of the feedback that you’ve gotten in terms of how successful or how the policy has been received from your employees?
Yeah, so the policy has been received very well. We even have an individual that I work with pretty much daily, who, when we made the announcement internally said she was sobbing at her desk. So if that doesn’t say how much impact this makes, I don’t know what does. And to me, that’s really the most important element to all of this, because what is a company without its people? And making sure that we’re taking care of our people is our number one priority. So the feedback has been very positive, especially for those that are impacted most by the policy, but also by those who have not necessarily had to use the policy, just acknowledging that Progyny is looking out for them and looking out for issues that they might have really speaks to the type of culture that we have at Progyny. And that alone means a lot to the individuals who might not necessarily have to use this, or don’t know if they’ll need to use it or not, but saying, “We’re looking out for you, we’re acknowledging this, and it’s important to us.” Yeah. So go ahead.
I just think it’s a great way of conveying empathy for the whole person. Sometimes policies can be rooted in not empathy. So we’ll just leave it at that. But this is just something that just shows that the company cares. And again, some people will use it and need to use it, some people won’t, but that doesn’t even matter. It just matters that it’s there for them if they need it, if at any point that they need it. Where do you see this policy growing? Or where do you see this, if we were two or three years down the road, where would you see some of the things that you’d want to change or modify in the policy?
Yeah. Well, the way that I see this growing is actually outside of the company. So the first thing that came to mind when you asked that question was how much of the feedback that we’ve received was external and saying, “Wow, you’re Vanguard’s in the field and you’re also Vanguards when it comes to a policy like this, because a lot of large companies don’t have anything analogous.” So I’m hoping what happens is more companies take heed and realize this is a real issue. This affects more of their workforce than they realize, and creating more policies like this at more companies. So I really hope that other companies have their own version of this policy and it grows in that way.
And then second at Progyny, I think the way that we would grow or expand this is going to be based on feedback internally. So it goes back to some form of this policy should be adopted at most companies, one would hope, I would hope. But for us, what makes sense for us will change and shift over time. So making sure we have that feedback loop with our employees will be critical to ask them, “What did we miss? We thought through everything that we knew about at the time, but facts change. So how can we change to accommodate?” So I think that’ll be an ongoing conversation in the future.
Yeah. I love that. And I think that probably engaging the therapist community as well, and the people that deal with mental health to find out things that they’re learning on that front. I think sometimes employees, just even if you ask them every day or whatever your cadence is, they just can’t tell you. They just can’t tell you, for whatever reason that there’s a block there. But also, touching base with a community that deals with this, that’s external that deals with this, that in generic terms, what else should we be thinking about? And then putting that in front of your audience or your employees to then test and go, is this something that we should be thinking about?
Dumb question alert. Is your policy public? Do you have it as something you could or would share?
Yes, we have done a release relating to the policy. So the terms of the policy itself have become public. And also to your point about the mental health component, we have already included a mental health component. So we have six therapy sessions that can be used for anything. So I think that’s a really important point. A lot of companies do have some sort of mental health benefit, might not be specific to pregnancy loss, but important to couple these things together, because not only is physical loss a real component of this, emotional and mental hardship as well.
So what’s the guidance for folks, people that listen to this from the C-suite all the way throughout, that may be reticent? Maybe they didn’t have this problem. Maybe they don’t even know anybody that’s had this problem. And so maybe they were reluctant because they just don’t know enough about it, et cetera. What’s your advice for those folks?
Yeah. That’s a great question because at the end of the day, I’m an advocate for advocacy. So how do you advocate for a benefit like this or benefits generally that you’re looking for in your company? One of the things that I’ve found is that HR departments really do listen more than you think they will when you speak up. So their reticence is oftentimes holding back companies because they don’t receive the feedback about what their employees need. So what I would say to the employees who are looking for a benefit like this, or thinking about a benefit like this, whether or not they know if they would need it is find a group of close colleagues who share your passion for this particular topic. There will be more people than you realize, because one in four pregnancies do end in miscarriage.
So especially on this particular topic, there might even be a group of individuals or a support group that has been formed. So there’s a real power in numbers there. And you can go to your HR department or executive leadership, if you have a mentor or a sponsor and tell them how important this is for the company, not only for you individually, but from an empathy perspective, and from the perspective of acknowledging what this could mean for the workforce and for your population. So you can just start with a meeting with those individuals and a conversation about why this is important. And from there, see where it leads you. Hopefully the HR department will take this into consideration and it will take some time, but that’s what I would recommend for the first couple of steps in order to get this enacted at your company.
I love that. What, if any, have you heard from the medical community, because there’s a whole other side of this, that obviously the treats folks, nurses, and doctors, and everybody there in between. Have you heard anything from them about this policy, because it is Vanguard, It is cutting edge to be able to take it out of the shadows, not make it taboo and release some of that stigma that’s attached to it. They deal with this all day long, every day.
So what, if any, what’s their take on this?
Yeah. So I can speak generally about what we’ve heard from the medical community. Even before we had enacted this policy, we have a medical advisory board so we are in close contact with a number of OBs and reproductive endocrinologists who kind of live and breathe fertility and OB. So in general, they have already acknowledged that loss is a reality for many people, and it’s not necessarily an acknowledged a loss or an acknowledged reality. And there are many components to that loss that take time to process. So from the medical community, allowing somebody to take time to process that to physically recover is important. So, I think as of now, just generally, we have support around taking time to recover physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Yeah. It’s the grieving process, right?
I mean you’re going to go through that process, whether you like it or not. And if the company allows you that space, that safe space that acknowledges, “You know what? You need to grieve. You are going to grieve. And it’s okay to grieve.” So give you some time and maybe you need more time. Maybe you need less time, but at least there’s something there that acknowledges your loss, you’re going to grieve, it’s okay.
What have y’all learned from COVID in the context of remote work and isolation and ambiguity and now pregnancy and fertility, and even on the other side of loss. How has COVID impacted the way that y’all have thought about this?
Yeah. COVID has affected the way that we all think about everything. So it’s definitely pervasive in our thoughts in general. And as it relates to policies like this, I think a couple of things that COVID has helped us recognize and for other policies as well, other benefits and other elements of work-life balance, the first one would be around the mental health component of pregnancy loss and around mental health generally. So that for Progyny has become front and center and acknowledging that our workforce, me included, needed more support when it came to mental health. We’re all dealing with a lot of uncertainty. And when uncertainty goes down or sorry, when certainty goes down and anxiety and all of these other emotions go up, right? So just acknowledging that and making sure that we’re paying more attention to mental health, providing more support as it relates to mental health.
And then that feeds into pregnancy loss as well. So ensuring that our mental health benefit is also acknowledging and tied into the pregnancy loss leave. So making sure that people know that they have a number of mental health visits available to them on an annual basis.
And the other one, the other key element that COVID has made us think about is what it means to be more flexible and flexible as it relates to work benefits. So things like once upon a time having a very stringent set number of days off and sick days versus, expanding that to an unlimited number of sick days, for example, which some companies have done. So where is the happy medium there? And I think policies like this, that acknowledge, “Look, we know you’re not going to take advantage of policies like this. We trust you. There are certain number of days that you can take, and we can be more flexible as a company.” And what that does is allows more leadership by the employees, more ownership by the employees, because it engenders this element of trust and being more flexible is actually beneficial for everyone. So not just with leave like this, but leave in general. That’s one overarching way to think about this. And COVID has definitely flexed that muscle as it relates to what flexibility means.
So, first of all, I think it’s a policy that should probably be in some form or fashion instituted everywhere, because again, whether or not you need it or not, it just shows that the company cares. And if you do need it, it’s there. So I’ll go and be a little bit absolutist with it. But the last thing before we roll out is a starting point. So obviously they can go and look at the website, look at your press release and kind of get some of that stuff, but where would you suggest other resources if one listens to this and then wants to go start the path?
Yeah, I think, look at our policy, look at new legislation from Tammy Duckworth. That’s a good recent example. The legislation hasn’t passed yet, but it has been introduced. So those are two good resources. Also, we talked a little bit about the medical community. So just looking at the statistics and using those as part of your talking points, when you do have these conversations with a mentor or a sponsor, or with your HR department. There are also clinical trials around mental health and how mental health ties into pregnancy loss. So those are all good starting points.
And then to your point around this should be at every company it’s not really in the US, so another good place to look is outside of the US, New Zealand, for example, implemented a national pregnancy policy in.2021, there are some examples in the UK. So look outside the US, there are other countries that have done this, using those as examples about how this can be done well.
I love it. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I love this, and I just love that it’s obviously a topic that needs to be talked about, and I love that y’all are doing some really good work here. So thank you, Jennifer.
And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.