Fertility: focusing on the facts and debunking the myths

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Grace Belgravia, London. July 8th, 2015

Grace Belgravia, the luxury women-only private members club focused on health & wellness, hosted us for an evening focused on fertility. Fertilty is a topic that rarely seems to leave the news, whether it’s Google deciding to offer egg-freezing to their female employees, or scare stories about the impact our lifestyles have on our ability to have children. With such speculation and often hysteria in the press, we sought out the advice of specialists who could tell us what was true, what was myth, and what we can do to protect our fertility for the future.

Dr Tim Evans, Medical Director at Grace and doctor to the Queen, introduced the event to our members, and advised us of the importance of looking after our physical and mental health at all times. Balancing busy lives and careers can be tough, and stress can have a detrimental effect on our health, including our fertility.

Following a delicious and healthy meal in the Grace restaurant, Dr Marie Evans walked us through the facts about fertility, fielding our many questions and guiding the debate. Alongside Dr Marie our member Sapana Agrawal, founder of egg-freezing company Smart Egg, told us what we need to know about egg freezing. It’s a controversial topic, but a subject that is on any career-women’s radar so it’s important we’re armed with the facts.

There’s so much more to learn beyond the below, but we hope it’s a good starting point for future conversations and debate

12 things we learned about fertility

1. Fertility varies widely across age groups and across lifestyles. While statistics can talk about probabilities, there is a broad range of factors that determine individual fertility levels. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle – regular exercise, a balanced diet, avoiding drugs and excessive drink – is advisable whatever age you are.

2. Women are born with all of their eggs; men start making sperm when they are born and will continue to do so throughout their lives, although the quality deteriorates as they age.

3. For most women, there are only 12 opportunities to get pregnant each year (once per cycle). For men, there are roughly 60 million sperm each time they ejaculate. Sperm can live in the woman’s body for 48 hours before ovulation, so the window of opportunity is three to four days each month.

4. Female fertility declines with age as the number and quality of eggs reduces: a 30-year-old woman having unprotected sex for a year has a 75 per cent chance of getting pregnant; a 40-year-old woman having unprotected sex for a year has a roughly 45 per cent chance of getting pregnant within the year.

5. One in six couples will find it difficult to conceive. One in 10 couples will need fertility treatment.

6. The average age of women to have their first child is 28; this age is greater in high-achieving women.

7. Fertility declines with age and studies suggest that the pace of decline steepens after the age of 35.

8. Don’t catch STDs and if you do, treat them quickly. They can have major impacts on fertility.

9. There is no relation to when you started your period and when you will go through menopause.

10. Taking the pill and the morning after pill are unlikely to have a long-term impact on your fertility. It is a myth that it prevents you from using up your eggs though!

11. The older the mother, the greater the risk of genetic abnormality in the baby.

12. You can have an AMH fertility test done at most clinics for around £60. This tells you whether you are above or below average fertility and so whether egg freezing might be particularly relevant for you.



12 things we learned about egg-freezing 

1. Typically you freeze 15-20 eggs; most women produce 8-12 eggs per cycle.

2. In the UK the cost of egg freezing is around £4k-£4.5k per cycle, with storage costs of £100-£300 each year.

3. Over 90% of eggs survive thawing.

4. The process of egg freezing is similar to the early stages of IVF. It involves injecting yourself with hormones for 10-15 days. The effect of these hormones varies by woman – it’s like PMS but multiplied by 10!

5. Harvesting the eggs then involves either sedation or a general anaesthetic. The procedure should take only around 10 minutes.

6. Eggs are frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored safely. Only mature eggs are frozen; at this stage you can’t tell if the eggs being frozen are genetically normal.

7. The whole egg freezing process should take no longer than 20 days from start to finish.

8. Once the eggs are thawed, they are mixed with sperm and the embryo is implanted into the woman about five days later.

9. The risks are low. Roughly 0.5% of women experience hyper-stimulation from the hormones and there is very rarely long-term damage.

10. If you are going to want to freeze your eggs for social reasons, sooner is better rather than later. The younger the eggs, the better quality they are.

11. Pick a clinic that has had as many successful live births from social egg freezing as possible. Only 20 babies have been born in the UK from frozen eggs; the industry is still in nascent stages.

12. While there are relatively few cases in which women have had their eggs thawed and fertilised for pregnancy, studies in Italy and Spain suggest that success rates in IVF using frozen-thawed eggs are just as good as those using fresh eggs.

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HE FOR SHE: What can we all do to ensure men and women are equals at work?

PWC HQ, London. May 12th, 2015

PwC kindly hosted us, and male friends and colleagues, for a inclusive evening focused on what we can all do to ensure equality in the work place. Our four brilliant panelists – Ian Powell (PWC’s Chairman), Sarah Drinkwater (Google’s Head of Campus), Jane Marsh (Innocent’s Head of People) and Kieran Foad (Santander’s Chief Risk Officer) – openly discussed what they’ve managed to achieve, what policies and lessons they’re focused on, and what they hope to achieve in the future.

There was a lot to take away from the evening, so we’ve wrapped our 10 key takeaways on what we can we all do to ensure men and women are equals at work:

  1. Men and women need to do this together. Take personal responsibility and have the confidence to speak up if something is not right.
  2. Equal pay is one of the the most effective measures. Encourage this through pay transparency and preventing secret salary negotiations.
  3. Beware of unconscious biases. Job descriptions and team socials are good examples of where they can sneak in.
  4. Flexible working should be endorsed, supported and demonstrated from the top. It needs to be enabled right through the organisation, not just for certain groups.
  5. Lead with examples. A senior man working effectively part time disproves the critics and paves the way for others.
  6. Internal networks are as important as external networks. Both should be cultivated.
  7. Look around, not just up, for mentors. They don’t need to be at the most senior level. Initiatives such as upwards mentoring can have benefits for all involved.
  8. Targets and metrics help speed things up and encourage the right behaviour. But no one wants to feel that they are being promoted by positive discrimination.
  9. Smaller companies with more limited resources can take advice on gender equality from bigger companies.
  10. The UK is doing better than most! And companies like PwC are leading the way. But we’re all responsible for making it better.

Career Advice for Ambitious Women – an evening with Mrs Moneypenny

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Gail’s Bakery, Marble Arch. April 22nd, 2015

We had the fabulous and thoroughly entertaining Mrs Moneypenny aka Heather McGregor – FT columnist, TV personality and owner of the very successful executive search firm Taylor Bennett. Heather took us through her book ‘Career Advice for Ambitious Women’ and gave us much to reflect on and practical advice to follow.

We did our best to put together the highlights for our BroadMinded members, but can highly recommend the book for even more helpful advice for planning the future of your career:

1) Get some qualifications – what you know will always be important, so build your human capital.

2) Build a network – connections and people are invaluable in any industry and any field. So get out there and network (BroadMinded is the #1 place to start of course!)

3) Never think it’s too late – there is no time for regret. If you wish you had done something in the past, find a way to do it now.

4) Learn to say no – unfortunately while men are conditioned to perform, women are conditioned to please which means we find it hard to say no to anyone. Think about what and how to prioritise now, as we’ll only be pulled in more directions as time goes on.

5) You can’t have it all – The dream is of the perfect house, marriage, children, challenging job, charity work, pilates on the weekend…of course free time to read and continue to learn. Unfortunately the reality is that having all of this is near-impossible! But choose what’s important to you, and plan time to fit in everything you can.
 
6) Be prepared to do more than a man – but also learn to let go. Choose your arguments, and learn to delegate.
7) Control your own finances – being financially literate is incredible important in order for you to know what options you have in front of you. You need to be able to evaluate what career and life choices are financially viable.
8) Do something outside work and your family – a real BroadMinded plug! It’s important outside of your work and home life to have a project that you don’t do for money, but something that improves your human and social capital. You may make connections and live experiences which impact your future options.
9) Promote yourself – build the brand! 85% of communication is non-verbal, so how we look is incredibly important. Don’t forget to accessorise with an FT or an Economist poking out of the large lap-top ready handbag!
10) You can’t do it alone – relevant for both your career and home life. With a strong team of people around you, anything is possible.

Coding & Cocktails @ Decoded – Demystifying code with Kathryn Parsons

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Decoded HQ, London. March 18th, 2015

Kathryn Parsons and the team at Decoded hosted us at their HQ near Silicon Roundabout, giving us a quick lesson in how to code, how to hack, and why understanding what goes on behind the screen is so important for every one of us. This is even more so for women, who continue to be significantly under-represented in the technology sector.

Kathryn walked us through how the Decoded mission – to demystify code. Technology is disrupting, expanding and changing so many industries around us, it’s difficult to point to any business that has not and will not continue to change due to the rapid growth and development of the internet and the technology around it. Kathryn and their team left a clear impression on us – learning the language of code would help us develop, move with the changes, and be a force for change in the future. The other choice is to put our heads in the sand and risk being left behind.

After warming us up with cocktails and an incredible spread of food from their in-house chefs, we first learnt the basics behind coding – the use of the three principal programs HTML, CSS and JavaScript. On first glance code frankly looks like an alien language, but after a little while it looked a little less terrifying. We then learnt some serious lessons from the hacking team – be wary of free wifi! When you connect to free wifi, whether in Starbucks or the London Underground, your connection is open to hackers who can see everything you’re doing, including the logins and passwords you use for any number of platforms. To know you’re safe when signing in to anything, look for a green padlock at the beginning of the URL.

We’re all very seriously considering signing up for the Decoded day courses – the future is in the coders’ hands!

‘What I know in my 40s that I didn’t know in my 20s’ with Julie Meyer

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The Orange, Pimlico. January 28th, 2014

We were thrilled to have Julie Meyer, serial entrepreneur and founder of venture capital firm Ariadne Capital, come to talk to us. Julie has had a fascinating career, dating back to 1998 when she founded First Tuesday, the network of entrepreneurs which many credit for igniting the internet generation in Europe. It was sold in 2000 for $50m, and Julie went on to found Ariadne Capital to create a new model for the financing of entrepreneurship in Europe; that of ‘Entrepreneurs backing Entrepreneurs’. She has also launched EntrepreneurCountry – a global forum for entrepreneurs.

The subject of Julie’s talk was ‘What I know in my 40s that I didn’t know in my 20s’. As someone with such a varied and successful career, we thought Julie might have some good advice for us, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The presentation and Q&A crossed a breadth of subjects, but we keenly wrote down the advice below to share with everyone.

  1. Understand what you can do as a person
  2. Worry less about the money and more about what you can do; the money will find you
  3. Ask yourself what you should do rather than using everyone else as one big advisory board on your life
  4. Don’t try and fix things to be perfect at everything; play to your strengths and then you understand your unfair advantage and your unique contribution
  5. See yourself as a premium; don’t sell yourself at a discount
  6. You don’t win by playing by someone else’s rules
  7. To win big, work for yourself
  8. Don’t worry about breaking the glass ceiling; create new rules
  9. Society works best when it’s organised around the entrepreneur
  10. And remember: Now is a good time to be a woman

To hear about what Julie is up to, follow her at @StrongJules. And follow this link http://entrepreneurcountryforum.com to read more about her other venture EntrepreneurCountry.

We also asked all the members at the dinner to introduce themselves, and say something that they know now that they wish they’d known when they were 20 – it made for a very lively conversation! We thought what came out was really interesting – many of the comments could apply to any age and are still worth reminding ourselves of now. This is a selection of what was said:

Be braver

Don’t rush

Trust your gut

Say yes

Don’t think about what everyone else is doing

Don’t try to please everyone

Don’t be too quick to judge people or situations

Keep up passions outside of work

Time is your friend

Do anything – you don’t have to follow a path

It’s okay to blag it

Speak up – your opinion is valuable

Don’t take it personally

It’s okay to fail

Be more confident

Don’t set milestones

Spend more time alone

Pick your battles

Ask for help

Care less about what other people think

How to build executive presence and improve presentation skills

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Bumpkin, Notting Hill. October 22nd, 2014 

We were delighted to have Susan Treadgold, founder of Treadgold Executive Development, join us to speak about presentation skills. As part of this she shared her thoughts and advice on developing executive presence and why it is particularly important for women of our age. Susan also talked about some of her personal experience, particularly around her career in banking and subsequent transition to becoming an entrepreneur. There were many takeaways, but these really stayed with us:

  1. First impressions count
  2. Most people notice how you look and sound, not what you say
  3. Executive presence is 67% gravitas, 28% communication and 5% appearance
  4. Mehrabian’s pyramid of communication shows that we communicate via words (5%), tone (38%) and body language (55%)
  5. Powerful mammals take up space: give yourself wings
  6. Aim for excellent speaking skills: avoid ummm/I think/I feel/I believe; use and rather than but
  7. Breathe from your abdomen
  8. Appearance should be polished and put together
  9. The jacket is a key part of the corporate uniform
  10. Relax – if you worry about doing something (eg blushing) then you are just encouraging it

Susan mentioned a fantastic speaking society called Toastmasters – http://www.toastmasters.org/ – If any of you go please do send us your thoughts, we’d love to hear how you find it. And you can find information about Susan’s future Masterclasses here http://www.tedlondon.com/speaking.html

An evening with Female Entrepreneurs at Esc the City School

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Escape the City School, The City. September 17th, 2014

We had two fantastic speakers lined up to speak for our event with Esc the City, two women who are among the UK’s most prominent female entrepreneurs.

In 1962 Dame ‘Steve’ Stephanie set up a technology company with just £6 (at the time she had to get her husband’s permission to open a bank account). When her company peaked in the 1980s, she was worth £150 million. She has given away at least £67 million to more than 100 philanthropic projects. Louise Chester-Cox was a Director of several City banks and headed up a global team advising on over £50bn of assets. She attributes practicing mindfulness for the last 18 years as the greatest tool to help her manage life and be more effective, and has subsequently set up her own businesses that train on mindfulness at work

Dame Stephanie Shirley talked about the lessons she’d learnt through her pretty amazing life as an entrepreneur and philanthropist:

1) Work with people better than you

2) Choose your partner (in work and life) wisely

3) Believe in the beauty of work – if you don’t commit to what you’re doing, you’re just taking up space

4) Change can be your friend

5) Giving your time and money for social good will make you feel great

We can also highly recommend her book ‘Let it Go’ – amazon link here

Louise Cox-Chester followed with tips on practising mindfulness. She was working flat out as an investment analyst when she discovered the practice. Mindfulness should help you gain awareness, clarity and perspective on your life, and should help with managing stress and the pressures of multi-tasking. She founded Mindfulness at Work, which offers fantastic courses (we can vouch for them!) – all info on the website http://mindfulnessatwork.com