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Are fertility benefits the way forward for employers?

16 Nov 2020

As recruitment in the tech industry becomes more competitive, Sims IVF director Damien O’Dowd argues that fertility benefits could become an important differentiator for employers.

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What springs to mind when you think of workplace benefits? For some companies, it’s health insurance, pension contributions, free lunch or flexible working hours. Other companies prefer a more laid-back approach, like a fridge full of beer or company getaways.

Damien O’Dowd, director of Sims IVF Group in Dublin, reckons that fertility benefits could become one of the key perks that prospective employees look out for when applying for roles at tech companies in the future.

Sims IVF has clinics in Dublin, Cork and Carlow, providing a range of fertility treatments and services. The company, which is a member of global fertility services provider Virtus Health, also recently began working with fertility benefits start-up Carrot to help improve access to the clinic’s services.

“We came across Carrot earlier this year,” O’Dowd told Siliconrepublic.com. “Part of our strategy is to find new ways to make it easier for our patients to undergo fertility treatment, from a financial point of view.

“We’re very cognisant that cost is a major factor in fertility treatment in Ireland, so we’re always looking for new ways to make it more accessible so that patients can get the best and the most out of it. We liked what Carrot does to facilitate individuals who want to undergo fertility treatment and what was more interesting is that they engage with employers to help employees undergo fertility treatment.”

Opening up the conversation

San Francisco-based Carrot Fertility was founded in 2016 to help employers provide fertility benefits to staff, with support for egg freezing, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), adoption, donor and gestational carrier services, and more.

The start-up, which raised $24m in Series B funding in August, now works with more than 100 multinational companies to offer their employees fertility care services in more than 40 countries. Tech companies such as Box, Snap and Peloton have already signed up.

A man with short hair, wearing a grey suit in front of a grey background.

Damien O’Dowd. Image: Sims IVF Group

Sims IVF Group became Carrot‘s first partner clinic in Ireland earlier this year. O’Dowd believes that offering fertility benefits can indicate to staff that their employer is open to conversations and willing to provide support during what can often be a difficult and stressful process.

“It can be a trying and expensive time,” he added. “Employers are saying that they’ll support their employees in not only an emotional way, but a financial way as well.

“It sends out a clear message to employees who are considering fertility treatment that their employer will assist them and support them through that process,” he said. “We completed a fertility awareness week survey earlier this year, which found that many people still find it challenging to raise the issue of fertility at work.”

A competitive edge

Last year, a report from Hays UK suggested that the tech hiring landscape may now be the most competitive it has ever been. As tech companies attempt to differentiate themselves from competitors to attract and retain top talent, many are opting for a blend of pragmatic and novelty benefits.

O’Dowd said that the new clients Sims IVF has dealt with through the partnership with Carrot have primarily been from the tech sector.

“What encourages companies to offer additional benefits can often be market drivers,” he said. “Companies can fall into the situation where they all offer something quite similar and I think that going forward, in Ireland in particular, companies are going to have to start diversifying in terms of what benefits they offer employees.”

He believes that along with financial benefits, there’s also plenty of room for culture change to support employees as they start their families.

“People tend to be working longer days and they tend to leave starting a family until later in life,” O’Dowd said. “A lot of the time, that decision is made from both a financial and a career progression perspective. Employers are going to need to be cognisant of that, in terms of creating a family-friendly, flexible type of environment.

“I think it’s also that there are companies out there that want to take a brave step and make a cultural change, to help out employees whether they need mental health supports or fertility supports, or whatever they might be working through.”

The evolving fertility space

According to O’Dowd, Sims IVF has gained greater access to the potential of technology since it was purchased by Virtus in 2016. Implementing new technologies for genetics and fertility is an important part of the company’s new strategic plan.

“We’re going to have greater use of artificial intelligence, which could improve success rates and we hope that this technology will improve the selection of embryos,” he said. “We’re already seeing that at the moment, but that’ll continue to grow over the years.”

Looking ahead, O’Dowd added that developments in tech could reduce some of the costs associated with treatments such as IVF.

“AI in lots of ways creates greater efficiency, so I think it’s certainly fingers crossed that this could create efficiencies going forward that would make it more affordable and accessible for people,” he said.

“Healthcare itself is both a labour-intensive and a technology-intensive area, both of which are expensive. As a result of that, unfortunately, healthcare tends to be an expensive business once you step outside of public funding. It’s certainly an area where we’re seeking to see how we can make it more affordable and accessible through a combination of efficient working and technology.”

Kelly Earley
By Kelly Earley

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic. She joined in June 2019 and covered start-ups, Big Tech and developments in consumer technology.

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