Jackie Geilfuss recently submitted an unusual expense report to her employer: $6,285 for the purchase of sperm.
Geilfuss and her wife are planning to have a baby. As a same-sex couple, they face thousands of dollars in costs to conceive a child, including the expense of donor sperm. Struggling with the financial burden, they turned to friends and family for help. Then, a few months ago, Geilfuss’ employer announced it would start reimbursing employees up to $20,000 for nonmedical costs to have children.
“This benefit is life-changing for us,” says Geilfuss, who helps employees manage the implementation of new systems at Akamai Technologies, an Internet services and technology company in Cambridge. “We were ready to be parents a long time ago, but it wasn’t something we felt was feasible. We weren’t in a financial position to do that.” Geilfuss and her wife, Jessica, began fertility treatments this month.
Akamai is among a growing number of local companies that have expanded their employee benefits beyond standard medical coverage, often looking at options to add through the lens of diversity and inclusion. Several large employers now offer new fertility benefits to help single people and same-sex couples start families. Some are adding supports for new mothers, or broadening coverage for people transitioning from one gender to another.
“It’s a really hot topic,” says Liz Spath, a Boston-based benefits consultant at the consulting firm Mercer. “They’re looking to programs like this that really drive culture. Anything that’s family-friendly and lets people bring their full selves to work is top of mind.”
Expanding benefits can be expensive, but there are many potential advantages for employers that do, including recruiting and retaining talented workers, fostering a corporate culture that appeals to clients, and improving their rankings on job sites.
“It does play a role in helping candidates understand what we’re all about and where we place value,” says Sarah Sardella, senior director of global benefits at Akamai, which now reimburses employees for costs of surrogacy, donor sperm, and donor eggs.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals launched a similar benefit this year, paying up to $10,000 for nonmedical costs of adoption and surrogacy. These expenses, including administrative and legal fees, can add up quickly. The Vertex benefit helped offset some of those costs for Dylan Ellis-Jacobs, senior director of business development and alliance management at the company, and his husband, Christopher.
“Not everyone can have children through natural means, so the adoption and surrogacy benefit is really nice,” Ellis-Jacobs says. “Everyone should have a chance at building a family.” The couple has spent tens of thousands of dollars to have children through a surrogate. Their twin boys were born in April.
Vertex also began a new benefit for nursing mothers this year. It now pays for them to ship breast milk back to their babies while traveling for work. Heather Nichols, senior director of external communications at Vertex, whose daughter was born last November, says the perk made a business trip to New York less stressful for her. “I didn’t have to worry about carrying [the milk] with me all day long and figuring out how to get through security,” Nichols says.
The life insurance company MassMutual reviewed all of its benefits last year and made several additions to reflect its evolving workforce, says Claudia Coplein, the company’s head of health and wellness. This includes expanded coverage for those transitioning to a different gender, which MassMutual and other employers refer to as gender affirmation benefits. In addition to hormone treatment and genital surgery, the company now covers procedures such as facial feminization and breast enhancement.
MassMutual is also reimbursing employees about $14,000 for the costs of adoption and surrogacy. And for those choosing to delay having children, the company is paying for egg and sperm cryopreservation. “We want people to choose their journey to parenthood on their terms,” Coplein says. “If we can support people in that journey, we’re more likely to keep them as employees. They’re more likely to be productive.”
The software firm HubSpot is also covering up to $7,500 for employees who choose to freeze their eggs. Elissa Barrett, vice president of human resources, says the company considers market trends and its employees’ needs and wants when developing benefits.
“That constant reevaluation is key,” she says. “We don’t set it and forget it.”