Wednesday 18 September 2019

Sinead Moriarty: 'Everyone should gain from a healthier work-life balance'

Goldman Sachs’s London staff have been told they can now have free sex-change surgery and fertility treatments. Photo: Bloomberg
Goldman Sachs’s London staff have been told they can now have free sex-change surgery and fertility treatments. Photo: Bloomberg
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Investment bank Goldman Sachs's London staff have been told they can now have free sex-change surgery and fertility treatments.

Employees have been informed that sex-reassignment surgery and IVF treatments have been added to the company's employee benefits plan.

Goldman is not the first company to offer this to employees. In fact, Lloyds Banking Group was the first UK firm to offer sex-change surgery as an employee benefit back in 2016. Netflix and Facebook have been offering it to US staff since 2015.

In order to transition from one gender to another, patients usually require hormone treatments, breast augmentation, plastic surgery to remove or reconstruct genitals, and facial reconstruction.

The offer of free gender-reassignment surgery has been received warmly and shows companies are dedicated to promoting diversity. While this is all very impressive, the actual cost and risk to a company is, in fact, minimal.

"Committing to this form of equality allows a company to put another arrow in its quiver without terribly profound cost implications," said James Baron, a professor who studies human resources at the Yale School of Management.

According to a recent study, only one in about 10,000 to 20,000 employees typically uses gender transition coverage per year, with the average claim coming in at about €26,000.

In a concerted effort to promote this all-inclusive, all-embracing image, some of the big companies have also turned their attention to mothers. Portraying their inclusivity (and, let's face it, a desire to keep female staff in the office), many of the top firms have begun offering an array of new healthcare benefits.

Female employees with babies are now being offered fertility treatment, onsite childcare and "lactation rooms" where they can go to express their breast milk.

It is certainly welcome news that women no longer have to take their breast pumps into the office toilet.

But some companies have taken it a step further. Not only are employees now able to express their milk in peace, but they can also courier their expressed milk directly to their babies' lips. Yes, indeed. Big firms, including Goldman, IBM, Twitter and Accenture offer to transport employees' breast milk back home to their babies if they are travelling for work.

The companies deliver freezing kits to breastfeeding female employees on work trips. The frozen milk is then couriered from the hotel room back home for the baby to drink.

As welcome as this is, it also puts more pressure on women to get back to work quickly. The excuse of not being able to travel because you are breastfeeding is no longer going to be accepted as valid.

New and improved healthcare benefits are always going to be greeted with open arms and the LGBT community is pleased with the inroads being made.

The majority of people don't have any questions over their gender identity. However, there are a small number of people whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth.

Some of these people will seek to transition gender. Some people choose to change gender without undergoing medical procedures, but some feel it is necessary for them to change physically to be truly happy. Currently, the only way to get help transitioning in Ireland is to go abroad. No transgender reassignment or 'sex-change' procedures are performed in Irish hospitals, but they can be arranged in another country and are funded by the taxpayer under the Treatment Abroad Scheme. Some 93 people have been approved for sex-change procedures under the scheme since 1999.

It is important that Irish companies look at including similar additional benefits in their plans too.

We shouldn't deny important medical care to people who, through natural circumstances beyond their control, don't fit into a traditional role, and let's get that breast milk into our babies' bottles.

Irish Independent

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