Women continue to juggle increased home and work responsibilities, with many making sacrifices in terms of pay or quitting their jobs due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. While progress has been made to address issues like the gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women in certain professions and leadership roles, there is still a noticeable discrepancy when it comes to acknowledging the disparity in women’s health care and overall well-being.

From pregnancy and childbirth to menstruation and beyond, women face unique health challenges that are often misunderstood or marginalized in the workplace. “By investing in the health and wellness of women employees, companies have an opportunity to advance their cultures of caring while helping improve productivity, reduce absenteeism, and attract and retain top talent,” said Tara Anstey, director of business development client value at Medavie Blue Cross.

In her article “Benefits to Close the Women’s Health Gap in the Workplace” in the July/August issue of Plans & Trusts, Anstey writes that when it comes to mental health, women suffer from depression, anxiety and trauma significantly more often than others, yet women encounter greater obstacles to receiving mental health care. Women face similar struggles when receiving care for chronic conditions; notably, some health care professionals misconstrue women’s pain, treating it less aggressively than they would men, and are more likely to refer women to a therapist instead of further investigating the source of the pain.

Creating a Culture of Caring and Inclusivity

 “Women’s health topics, largely the ‘three Ms’ of menstruation, maternity and menopause, are often viewed as taboo, making them not only uncomfortable for women to talk about, but uncomfortable to raise at work,” Anstey explains. “Stigma also exists for many women who need to take time off for the ‘Ms’ and other health-related matters, from mental health to chronic conditions.”

Anstey references a 2023 Medavie Blue Cross survey of Eastern Canadians as evidence that organizations have begun to prioritize building inclusive cultures of caring. According to the survey, 75% of employers that offer health benefits have a DEI strategy, and 95% of employers see the importance in offering inclusive benefits to meet diverse employee needs. In that same survey, six in ten employees said they would consider leaving their job for another that offered benefits more inclusive of their life circumstances.

Women Vital to Business Success

Women make up a sizable portion of the workforce, and their contributions are essential to any company’s success. According to a 2020 diversity report from McKinsey & Company, organizations with a greater representation of women in leadership roles had a higher likelihood of outperforming companies with few women executives, or none at all.

“By supporting women in the workforce and addressing their diverse health and wellness needs, businesses can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace that benefits their employees and the bottom line,” Anstey added.

Practical Ideas to Advance Benefits Strategies

Anstey suggested that organizations consider the following questions to improve their benefits strategies in the workplace:

  • How do we ensure we are looking through a broader lens when building products, services and offerings for employees?
  • How are we making decisions relating to women’s health, and whom are we consulting?
  • Are we ensuring that all aspects­—the biological, physiological and social dimensions—are being accounted for in our benefit offerings and workplace programs?
  • Have these strategies been grounded in credible research and data to ensure they are sound?
  • How are we gathering and responding to feedback from our employees (or customers)?  

Inclusive benefits are key to closing the women’s health care gap. Anstey recommends that employers consider offering additional incentives, such as flexible work arrangements with hybrid or remote work and flex schedules, to help support employees in balancing work and family/personal responsibilities. Enhancing the traditional benefits package could involve offering access to affordable child care and elder care, as well as counselling and mental health resources to support employees’ total well-being. “When women thrive, society thrives,” Anstey concludes.  

Tim Hennessy

Editor, at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans  Favorite Foundation Product: Plans & Trusts Benefits-related topics that interest him the most: retirement security and mental health Personal Insights: Tim enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, reading, writing, and running.

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