‘The Great Breakup’ – could women’s health benefits gap be costing employers top talent?

Women make up half the workforce, but receive less support during key life stages

‘The Great Breakup’ – could women’s health benefits gap be costing employers top talent?

Life & Health

By Gia Snape

Stigma and a sore lack of benefits and support around women’s health could be holding employers back from their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) goals – not to mention, costing them top talent.

From period pain and family planning to menopause, there is a range of health concerns that women face at various stages of their career. However, these issues are largely undiscussed or ignored in the workplace.

The lack of support could be fueling the “The Great Breakup” – women in senior leadership leaving their companies at the highest rate ever seen, and at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

“Women roughly represent about 50% of the Canadian workforce,” said Tara Anstey (pictured), director business development, client value at Medavie Blue Cross.

“In some industries including insurance, that proportion is higher. It’s important for employers and insurers to be aware of the supports that they're offering to attract, retain, and promote women.”

Could the lack of health benefits be fueling ‘the Great Breakup’?

One of the most misunderstood women’s health issues in Canada is menopause, which often starts in women in their 40’s and can continue to the end of their lives.

There are around 10 million women over the age of 40 in Canada. But three-quarters of working women feel their employer is not supportive or do not know how to support them during this stage, according to data from the Menopause Foundation of Canada.

This means experienced women professionals may be losing out on opportunities to join C-suites or executive board because they don’t get adequate support as they transition through menopause.

“We continue to see a lack of understanding about menopausal symptoms, symptom relief and care options, as well as lack of support for women that are going through that phase of their life in the workplace,” said Anstey.

“Women experiencing hot flushes, for example, may need some special accommodations to control their own environment in terms of comfort.”

Social stigma around women’s health issues

Moreover, the gaps in understanding of the health concerns specific to women and gender-diverse individuals could lead to under-treatment and even misdiagnoses.

“For example, we see women presenting with symptoms of heart disease being diagnosed with anxiety, women presenting with symptoms of menopause could be diagnosed as having depression, or women who show symptoms of endometriosis are told that that's just normal period pain,” Anstey said.

Persistent stigma around women’s health needs as well as gender norms need to be addressed in the workplace, according to Medavie Blue Cross.

“Before we get to the concerns around private benefits coverage, there is also the social layer that influences women's health that needs to be acknowledged, such as the unequal burden of caregiving responsibilities.

“It's important that all aspects, the biological, the physiological and the social dimensions are all accounted for,” Anstey told Insurance Business.

“The imperative for businesses and insurers is ensuring that we fill the information gap and understand the unique health needs of women and gender-diverse people at all phases of life.”

What can employers do to close the women’s health gap?

Employers’ benefit strategies must include family planning, reproductive health, menopause, as well as ensure more equitable access to care in general, Anstey said.

That could include fertility benefits and paid leave for fertility treatment, miscarriage and pregnancy loss, gender-specific health screenings, and drug access to hormonal therapies as well as naturopathic or alternative treatments.

“Women may have different preferences for how they receive care, so being very mindful of offering a modality of options in terms of care and practitioner types to support them is important,” said Anstey.

Education is also key to smashing cultural barriers for women and gendered individuals. Employers can be at the forefront of this effort by providing access to information, nurturing a workplace culture that is open to discussions around women’s health, and allowing more flexibility.

“Data coming out of the pandemic that suggests that women were disproportionately more likely to defer screenings,” said Anstey.

“Employers also have a role to play around how they structure work in support of women, and increasingly that means more flexible work arrangements for things like medical appointments.”

For younger women professionals, flexibility also allows them to balance motherhood and caregiving with their careers more effectively.

Mental health support, at every age, are also critical tools to help women thrive in the workplace, Anstey stressed.

What are your thoughts on the women’s health gap in Canada? Share them below.

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