The baby-making business gets a growth spurt
This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.
The fertility industry is experiencing a Gold Rush-level expansion at the moment, a phenomenon which has been expertly chronicled by my colleague Beth Kowitt in her most recent feature, “Fertility Inc.: Inside the big business of babymaking.”
Her story also begins with the best opening sentence I’ve read in a business publication in a very long time: “Sperm and eggs have invaded the Pennsylvania Convention Center.”
The fertility business is having a very big moment.
The first IVF-enabled baby was born in 1978, a harbinger of medical miracles that took some time to gain mainstream traction. That’s about to change.
“In the decades since, the sector has gone from living outside the traditional health care system, viewed almost as a luxury good, to a serious industry garnering serious money,” writes Kowitt. “Piper Sandler research puts the U.S. fertility market at $15.4 billion by 2023, up from almost $7 billion in 2017.”
For people who are wealthy enough to afford the now growing array of services—the tests, the fertility monitors, the egg-freezing and medical procedures—this big moment has an
“Some people really care about having genetic children, which makes it a huge source of suffering—and a huge market,” Stanford Law School professor Hank Greely told her.
Writing in Fortune’s Broadsheet newsletter, Kowitt explains the “why now”:
“Fertility treatment historically sat outside traditional health care, essentially considered elective and a luxury. But today, even as access remains a huge issue, several big demographic trends are starting to move the industry into the mainstream. Millennials are aging into fertility treatment, women are having children later in life, the LGBTQ+ population is increasingly turning to assisted-reproductive technology to build their families, and infertility is losing its status as a taboo topic.”
But it’s complicated. For one thing, most humans don’t know much about how reproductive age bodies actually work and even less about fertility. It means that part of the job of specialists, investors, and entrepreneurs is to take prospective customers—people who want to be pregnant and their partners —through the basics of it all.
To that end, expect lots more sperm and egg invasions in convention centers, in medical offices, investment portfolios and mutual funds,
While reading this essential piece, I couldn’t help but wonder about the opportunity costs it implied, the intersection with an emotional marketplace driven fraught with suffering, and a medical and investment world still largely dominated by white people, mostly men.
“One thing I didn’t get into that I thought about a lot is how a lot of these startups fall into ‘femtech,’” Kowitt tells me, “again, suggesting that infertility and reproduction is a female problem.”
Or, more specifically, a white female problem. As Kowitt writes, some founders are concerned that the newfound focus on fertility and pregnancy will divert what little attention the rest of the women’s health field has struggled to garner— issues including the maternal mortality rates of Black women, which are truly dire and mostly ignored.
It’s also worth considering how this new Gold Rush may perpetuate some of the very same gender inequities that currently exist. “Some people I talked to really think that it does a disservice to the entire field—relegating it to a ‘woman’s problem,’” says Kowitt. “Reproductive health is really everybody’s business.”
Note: We recently made changes to improve our publishing tools that may cause temporary formatting bugs. Thank you for your patience during this transition.
A record number of Fortune 500 companies support transgender employees This is one of several important highlights from the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) annual Corporate Equality Index, which measures how well big companies protect and value LGBTQ+ employees. Here’s a nice number and a new record: 686 businesses and law firms earned a perfect 100 on the HRC scale. Here’s another one: As of 2019, 91% of Fortune 500 companies have explicit gender identity nondiscrimination protections, which is an increase of 88% (!!) from the first equality survey in 2002. Way to move the needle, folks. NewNowNext
The NFL takes on police shootingsThe new ad, which will run during the Super Bowl is part of the League’s effort to ramp up its social justice presence via a campaign called "Inspire Change." The ad features retired player Anquan Boldin sharing the story of his cousin, Corey Jones, who in 2015 was shot and killed by a Florida police officer while stranded roadside and waiting for a tow truck. The shooting was immediately controversial: The officer was dressed in street clothes and didn’t identify himself. He was later found guilty of manslaughter and first-degree attempted murder. The ad includes a dramatic reenactment of the shooting and is very powerful. I submit this story without further comment. Ad Age
How much data would you give up for a coupon? California’s new privacy law has spurred a spate of boiler plate statements disclosing what consumer data companies collect, and how they use it. But the data practices employed by Ralphs, a grocery chain owned by Kroger, is anything but business as usual. Users of their loyalty program, typically women on a budget and trying to save a buck, have unknowingly made their credit and financial histories, education levels, credit card and bank account numbers, purchase histories, and geolocation data available for the company to... do what with, exactly? “This is one of the most intrusive data-gathering programs I’ve ever seen from a supermarket,” says Joel Reidenberg, who teaches information-technology law at Fordham University. “It’s an extraordinary amount of surveillance.” Los Angeles Times
“Asian-American representation is not just a fad” This is the clear-throated declaration of writer and executive producer Teresa Hsiao, who along with executive producer Lucia Aniello, is about to prove her point with a new scripted series on Comedy Central, "Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens." Yes, it stars Golden Globe winner Awkwafina, but it’s also an all Asian-American cast, from Asian-American creators telling an Asian-American story—which happens to have plenty of universal elements. And no, it’s not a fad. “Asian-Americans, it’s not like we’re high-waisted jeans or something,” says Hsiao. “We’re not going to all of a sudden disappear from store shelves. But I do think there is an appetite for more Asian-American stories, and should be. There’s really been a dearth of stories from all people of color, of diversity in film.” Fortune
Sometimes strangers will make a door to your heart If you are prone to thinking about social media as a troll-driven snake pit filled who haters who will spontaneously gather into a murmuration-mob to attack at will, then you’ll enjoy this wonderful story from David Perry. “No, I didn't join a cult,” he begins. “But I did find out what it would be like if the internet was the nicest place on earth, if Twitter was a platform in which people flooded each other with love, encouraged each of us to feel accepted and to accept ourselves…” Awwww, right? The catalyst was an innocent question about the origin of an emoji he received in a text message. Next thing he knew, he’d been adopted by the fans of the Korean pop band, BTS, who engaged him with curiosity, candor, and compassion, and welcomed him into ARMY. A balm for politically-troubled times. The Current
Building safe spaces at work In the ongoing conversation about the role of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) should play in the workplace, Mekaelia Davis, a program officer with the Prudential Foundation advocates for a redesign that better reflects the intersections that inform people’s identities. “Employees who identify as black and gay and veteran, for instance, may not be able to speak about their concerns or share ideas in a group that excludes any one of these identities, let alone feel safe in offering their unique perspective towards business challenges,” she says. How to accomplish this is the challenge. Click through for her advice for building safe sub-spaces within existing ERGs. Quartz
Is a lack of a college education a public health crisis? There are many issues at play in this piece set in hard scrabble Kennett, Missouri, once the home of singer Sheryl Crow, now a road to nowhere. Kennett is in a part of Missouri called the Bootheel, named for its distinctive shape on the map. But it is emblematic of many towns across the country, “[a] place, one of many in America, where disadvantages pile up,” says writers Sarah Brown and Karin Fischer. “Educational disparities and economic malaise and lack of opportunity are making people like those in the Bootheel sick. And maybe even killing them.” The Chronicle of Higher Education
“You can’t educate your way out of this problem. You can’t health-care-access your way out of this problem. There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.”
—Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and chief medical director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America
The future of Fortune is here
In 1930, Fortune published its first-ever issue, featuring the goddess Fortuna and her wheel on the cover. This year, on our 90th anniversary, we’re celebrating with a new Fortune. Here’s what’s in store for you:
- We’ve launched a new site, where you’ll find the best of business all in one place: strategic insights, deep-dive stories, and exclusive access to what executives are thinking. To access all of our revamped stories, register for free.
- Later this month, we’re launching new newsletters: The Bull Sheet, a daily brief on finance news, and The Broadside, a monthly bulletin for career-oriented women. Sign up to stay up to date on their launches.
- We’ve launched a new hub for our exclusive videos. It curates collections of executive insights—the latest and best from our interviews with business leaders, analysis series, and conference sessions. Access hundreds of hours of content.
- Starting with the February 2020 issue, we’re substantially upgrading our print magazine. There will be more stories per issue, and the reading experience will be more premium, with gorgeous, higher quality covers and stock. To see for yourself, subscribe to the magazine.