MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

How Channel 4 is Supporting Employees Through Pregnancy Loss

The wide-reaching impact of pregnancy loss on employees was brought into sharp focus in the UK when Channel 4 introduced a dedicated policy for its workforce in April of this year[1]. The announcement has since seen the likes of Monzo, Abel & Cole and the Co-op follow suit.

According to the charity Tommy’s, an estimated one in four pregnancies will end in loss at pregnancy or birth[2]. An astonishingly high statistic, suggesting that a large number of employees are going through such an experience at any given time.

“We discovered through meetings and people coming to us that people were struggling and suffering in silence with issues such a miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, and we realised that women were miscarrying [and felt that they]couldn’t say what was actually going on,” says Landy Slattery, co-chair of Channel 4’s in-house gender equality network, 4Women. “Women generally tended to suffer in silence and pretend they had a stomach bug. They would take time off and wouldn’t say what it was or get any support.”

World’s first

When Channel 4 introduced the dedicated pregnancy loss policy, it was brought in to support all employees. It is available regardless of gender or length of service, to those who suffer the loss of any kind of pregnancy – whether that be a miscarriage, stillbirth, loss of a surrogate pregnancy, termination for medical reasons or abortion – all of which can come with physical and emotional trauma for those involved.

Launched in just two weeks to coincide with four-part C4 series Baby Surgeons – Delivering Miracles, and on the back of the success of their recent menopause policy, not only is it the UK media industry’s first, it is believed to be the world’s first to include abortion. Significantly, it also recognises that the effects of losing a pregnancy aren’t just felt by women or heterosexual couples.

Access to support

The policy offers two weeks leave at full pay, paid leave for medical appointments and flexible working. Most importantly, the policy gives employees access to a wealth of support, such as access to counselling services as well as an abundance of “guidance for mental health support, medical support and also support for line managers and teams about the conversations [needed around this]”, says Slattery.

The policy can simply be activated by the employee contacting the company and saying they’ve had a pregnancy loss, no questions asked. “You don’t need to prove anything. We don’t want to make anyone who is in the traumatic situation jump through any hoops,” Slattery explains.

What about cost? The prospect of offering these levels of benefits to staff might seem daunting to some employers. Landy points out that most of these things don’t really cost money. “Yes, the time off costs money, but our argument would be that the [employee is]going to take that time off anyway. They’re just not going to feel like they’re wholly supported. They probably won’t take all the time off that they need and they’ll come back and try and cover it up and there’ll probably be some fallouts due to stress.”

She is confident that Channel 4’s policy will pave the way for other companies to follow suit by making it available to others on their website. They simply download and repurpose it to fit their company.

Supporting women is good for business

Why are policies like this and the in-house work of 4Women network so important? “If women are not working to their full potential or not feeling supported in the company I think it’s a detriment to the company because those women aren’t going to progress, they’re not going to move up the ladder,” Slattery believes. “There’s no end of benefits to supporting women in your workplace because ultimately you want them to progress, you want to promote them and you want to have more women in charge because that will make for a better representative workforce.”

4Women is part of a whole host of employee-led, grassroots networks within Channel 4 – including the disability-focused 4Purple, 4Mind for mental health and 4Pride, an award-winning LGBT+ network, as well as 4Earth for environmental and sustainability issues.

“The conversation between the networks and senior management at Channel 4 is a very brave and robust relationship,” explains Slattery. “They know that we are ‘of the staff, for the staff’ and we’ll set our own objectives and our own plans and we’re left to be who we want to be. We put pressure on the company to change in areas where we feel there needs to be change. In our opinion, inclusion is an ever-moving thing that needs to be changeable with whatever society deems at that time to be the most progressive.”

She cites the menopause policy as a catalyst in shining a light on the issue. Their company healthcare provider, Bupa, decided to introduce menopause cover as an employee benefit due to their discussions.

Ending the stigma

What does Slattery hope other employers will do following the introduction of these policies? “It’s about allyship and ending stigma,” she says confidently. “It’s about the men signing up and supporting all of this and being part of the conversations and it’s about everyone agreeing that it’s absolute madness that we don’t have a more open discussion about what women go through on a monthly basis, when they’re trying to have children, or even when they’re accidentally not trying to have children.”

By having open conversations about the natural cycles that affect women, by recognising publicly that miscarriages and pregnancy complications can and do happen, Slattery feels that women will feel more able to bring their whole selves to work as a result, which will in turn lead to a more cohesive and stronger workforce. “Bringing your authentic self to work means, as a woman, bringing your periods, your miscarriages and your hormonal hot flushes and everything else that being a woman entails because that is just nature.”

When asked by Make A Difference Media, Alex Mahon, Channel 4 CEO added: “At Channel 4 we recognise that the loss of a pregnancy, no matter the circumstances, can be a form of grief that can have a lasting emotional and physical impact on the lives of many women and their partners. Our dedicated policy by 4Women will help confront a subject that remains taboo whilst providing Channel 4’s employees with vital tools and support. We hope that by giving away this pioneering policy we’re able to encourage other organisations to do the same.”

[1] https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/experts/advice/why-employers-introducing-miscarriage-policies#gref

[2] https://www.tommys.org/baby-loss-support/pregnancy-loss-statistics

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About the author

As a trained freelance journalist, radio host and DJ, Jennifer Wallis has written for a number of highly-regarded music, culture and wellbeing publications, including COVER magazine, the leading trade publication for the protection and health insurance industry. She has spent many years exploring and healing herown mental health and wellbeing through travel, meditation, crystals and sound. As well as writing she is also a trained Reiki Master Teacher, training others in the Usui System of Natural Healing, and helping people with anxiety, stress, depression, physical aches and pains and much more. She incorporates guided meditation into her Reiki sessions, which are written intuitively for the individual.