Feb 1, 2022 - Podcasts

The rise in fertility benefits for employees

In this tight labor market, more companies are trying to lure and keep employees by providing fertility benefits like egg freezing or in vitro fertilization.

  • Plus, China’s "closed loop" system for the Winter Olympics.
  • And, new laws are changing how educators can teach Black History Month.

Guests: Axios' Erica Pandey, Tina Reed, and Russell Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, February 1st.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: China’s closed loop system for the winter Olympics. Plus, new laws are changing how teachers mark Black History Month.

But first, the rise in fertility benefits for employees…is today’s One Big Thing.

In this tight labor market, more companies are trying to lure and keep workers by providing fertility benefits to employees. Think egg freezing or in vitro fertilization. Axios’ Erica Pandey has been covering this trend. Hey Erica.


NIALA: How common was it in the past for companies to provide fertility benefits?

ERICA: Just to put some numbers on it: 2015, around 5% of employers with 500 employees or more, covered egg freezing. Now that's up to around 11%. And then when you look at companies that have 20,000 employees or more, so the really big guys, it's around 19%. So it's definitely getting more and more common. And for some of these big tech companies, becoming pretty much a standard.

NIALA: So what kind of benefits are we talking about here?

ERICA: It's just this whole suite of family-building benefits now. Whether it's adoption or surrogacy costs being covered, or IVF, intra vitro fertilization, or IUI, intrauterine insemination, or egg freezing, or even finding egg donors and sperm donors. Really just all kinds of different ways for people to have kids. And that's important because the birth rate in this country has been falling for a while. And a lot of those people are choosing not to have kids, and that's a personal choice. A lot of them might want to have kids who might not be able to afford these alternatives and when their company gets involved and makes that accessible, those people might be able to start building their families.

NIALA: And is that why more companies are choosing to provide these benefits?

ERICA: So we're hearing stories from women. I read this story in the BBC, as I was doing research for this story, about a woman who specifically looked for and applied to jobs at companies that offer IVF. So it's a big, big attraction for talent. And on the other hand, a lot of these companies are asking their employees to spend a lot of time at work, potentially delaying having kids. So it sort of becomes a responsibility for them to offer things like egg freezing, to offer things like IVF, to make it easier for people. And then also from a DEI perspective, we know for younger employees, especially, diversity equity and inclusion are becoming really, really important. And fertility benefits are a very inclusive benefit. I talked to Lyft that offers this, and the head of benefits over there told me that fertility benefits have allowed them to let their LGBTQ employees, their employees who are single parents, have kids and really build their families in a way that they might not have been able to without the benefit.

NIALA: Axios’ Erica Pandey covers business for us, and sometimes also hosts this podcast when I'm out, as she will do for a few days later this week, when I go on vacation. Thank you so much as always, Erica.

ERICA: Thanks, Niala. I’m excited to fill in for you.

In 15 seconds: China’s plan to fight omicron at the Olympics.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

The Winter Olympics start Friday in Beijing and China's made it clear that these games are going on no matter what phase of the pandemic we're in. But they're doing so under conditions that might be the strictest ever for a major sporting event, with a 'closed loop system' to keep people inside and outside the olympics apart.

Axios’ health care editor Tina Reed is here to tell us more about this – hey Tina!

TINA REED: Hi Niala.

NIALA : Tina, I was so surprised to read from your reporting that for example, China's telling its citizens, if an Olympic vehicle were to get into an accident, do not help. How much does that reflect overall caution for the Chinese about these games?

TINA: So when China says they're going with a closed loop system, they mean it. So the closed loop is basically the idea behind what people think of as like a bubble, where once you're inside the loop, you don't have any contact with people outside the loop and vice versa. In Tokyo, in comparison, they said that people were not supposed to be mixing with the local population. They were really trying to keep the game separate. But after being in the country for a while, people were able to actually leave the Olympic games and go see part of the local area. Here, the Olympians, the teams that come with them, the broadcast folks will not be able to go into Beijing, and vice versa the locals are being encouraged to stay away from the folks at the Olympics.

NIALA: What do experts think about how effective this may be given the fact that we are in a phase of the pandemic where we have the most transmissible variant that we've seen yet.

TINA: So Omicron is so much more transmissible than the Delta variant was. And so experts are saying that it would be really, really difficult to stop transmission of this virus within the loop. That being said, they have praised some of the different changes that they've made such as telling athletes and their teams to wear better masks. They're definitely, being very strict about telling people to, socially distance. On the other hand, the one critique that experts have pointed out repeatedly is that they really haven't specifically addressed how they're taking care of ventilation. Are they using HEPA filters? How many air exchanges per hour are they using? And they're saying that could be a key vulnerability in terms of protecting athletes against the spread within the village.

NIALA : Axios healthcare editor, Tina Reed. Thanks, Tina.

TINA: Thank you, Niala.

In the last year, 14 states have placed restrictions on what schools can teach students about American history when it comes to our racial past. So as we mark the first day of Black History Month, educators are navigating how to teach under these new constraints.

Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras is here with the details.

Hey Russ, can you first catch us up on how we got here?

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Yeah, since last year around 35 states have introduced bills that are taking some sort of action to restrict the teaching of critical race theory. This is a concept, of course, that focuses on the legacy of systemic racism. And what these laws do is attempt - They're attempting to limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the class.

In addition to that, 14 states have imposed restrictions either through legislation or some sort of action, a board vote, or an order from the governor. So this has spread since last year and now here we are a year later.

NIALA: How are these laws changing what teachers are actually doing in the classrooms?

RUSSELL: Well, we know that laws passed in Texas and Florida give broad jurisdiction about how state officials can punish schools to discuss racism. They limit the discussion of racism if a teacher or a professor talks about racism as ingrained in our society to uphold white supremacy. A lot of these lawmakers that crafted these bills feel that racism should be discussed as individual acts, not as something systemic with this country's history.

Under some of these proposals or laws that have already passed, it's unclear if a teacher can still teach Jackie Robinson and talk about him breaking the color line and also talk about the fact that Black baseball players were banned from major league baseball. It's not clear how broad these laws are and what kind of punishment teachers can face if they introduce lessons like these.

NIALA: You've talked to some teachers about this. What are they telling you about things that they feel worried about teaching now?

RUSSELL: Well, I talked to one teacher in Georgia, a fourth grade teacher, she said, she's not going to stop her lessons on Black history. She intends to do what she's always done. But she admitted that about half of teachers that she knows don't want to enter into this field. They don't want to create any sort of controversy.

So right now teachers are under immense pressure on what they’re ntroducing in the classroom where a year ago, this was not an issue. Some people have been doing this for years and introducing the same lessons about Coretta Scott King. Now these are under examination and not only are these moments under threat, but their careers are in jeopardy.

NIALA: Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras, joining us from Albuquerque. Thanks Russ.

RUSSELL: Thanks for having me.

One last headline for you today: the online puzzle Wordle - or, what I like to call the only good thing about January - was bought by the New York Times yesterday - for an undisclosed sum in the “low seven figures”.

The word guessing game started in October, and had just 90 users on Nov. 1 - but the Times says millions are playing it daily now. The newspaper says – and those of us who play wordle know the importance of word choice - that initially it will keep the game free.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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