Staff Wellbeing Champions Alison and Rachel, along with Heather Girling (Staff Health & Wellbeing Manager) recently co-hosted an awareness raising event on the theme of Childlessness in the Workplace. We were delighted to welcome guest speaker Karin Enfield De Vries, who works as a grief and loss counsellor and wellbeing coach and is a World Childless Week Ambassador. Karin’s shared insights from a wealth of experience in the workplace and from her personal experiences.
Alison and Rachel co-host the No Kidding support group for University of Bath staff who are Childless not by choice, providing a space to connect with colleagues who share this experience. We decided to host an event to raise awareness more widely. The aim was to increase understanding around a topic which often remains unspoken, and which affects far more people than we think.
What can we take away from the day?
The perfect advice - be 'mindful' - in thought, in action, in words
During the event, we heard some statistics around childlessness. Did you know that in the UK, 1 in 5 women aged 45 and above do not have children, and that the proportion is steadily increasing over time? And that of these women, an estimated 80% are childless by circumstance? There are so many reasons behind childlessness, such as relationship circumstances, health issues or barriers around the adoption process, to name just a few. Whilst statistics for male childlessness are less well researched, the impact can be equally significant.
We heard about language and why it is important to understand the different meanings around being childfree or childless. We shared some powerful personal stories, reflecting on experiences of childlessness, and the impact it can have in the workplace. We heard how childlessness is a lifelong experience that can have a profound impact on mental health. It was a privilege to work with our guest speaker to open this important conversation in the workplace, and the feedback we received highlighted why it’s so important to make the topic more visible.
Our attendees valued the mixture of statistics and information, personal stories, and tips on how to be mindful of the topic in the workplace. They particularly appreciated insights shared from first-hand experience. Some reflected that they recognised some of their own experience in the stories shared. In our feedback, several attendees commented on the useful suggestions of simple dos and don’ts to be supportive in the workplace.
For example, we reflected on a simple step that can make a huge difference when sharing new baby announcements with colleagues. Including any photos within a zip file attachment instead of in the body of the email means that someone who is childless can decide if or when they want to see the photos.
In their feedback, one attendee observed:
The phrase I wrote down and underlined and drew boxes around was 'mindful' - in thought, in action, in words, in sharing, it's perfect advice... it's a good reminder that some careful thought (or thoughtful care?) doesn't take much but can help enormously.
So, what’s next after our event?
If you are a staff member affected by childlessness, you may wish to join our No Kidding support group. Alison and Rachel facilitate a confidential online space, and we hold regular meet ups (on campus or online) where you can connect with others.
Contact us to find out more or for a private chat.
If you would like to build awareness, you can explore the further information and share this blog with colleagues.
To read more, see our posts in our Safety, Health and Employee Wellbeing Blog, and in the university guide on Supporting employees who are childless not by choice.