The January 2022 Jobs Report revealed that there are 1.1 million fewer women in the workplace than there were in February 2020. Various studies tie this disparity to women shouldering the impact of disruptions in childcare and in-person school more than men. But these recent trends highlight issues that have been with us for some time. Social and family dynamics aside, the nature of women's health issues can make it challenging to maintain productive focus at work throughout all their working years.
From maternity to mental health to menopause, women need access to certain kinds of health care more often than men. And they need benefits that leave them just as healthy and protected from health care costs as their male colleagues.
Cindy Gentry has spent over 30 years developing client-focused human resource and process improvement solutions for U.S. employers, with an emphasis on making healthcare affordable and accessible, particularly for women when they need it most. With her unique approach, she’s advised some of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley to create health benefit programs that equally support people of color, women, and people of different socioeconomic classes.
We chatted with Cindy to get her take on what the key gender gaps in coverage are in 2022 and how brokers and employers alike can offer more equitable benefits that can help keep women in the workforce today.
The Origins of Gender Gaps in Healthcare
“Let me take you through history in terms of how we actually got to where we're at, with a healthcare system that doesn't really support women,” Cindy said up front. The disparities between male and female health care dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Cindy highlighted that European physicians primarily exhumed male cadavers to research anatomy and until 30 years ago, male bodies were the basis of study in clinical trials. As a result, we've used the male body as a default over the course of centuries in developing medical research, care delivery, and benefits.
“How we diagnose and how we treat women and men have got to both be equally addressed,” Cindy says. She draws our attention to patterns of undertreated health issues in women like menopause symptoms, postpartum depression, to heart disease—which today is the leading cause of death in women. When today’s model for health benefits doesn’t take into account womens’ unique health needs, it’s no wonder so many women struggle to stay and advance within the workforce.
Cindy urges us to develop strategies to move the needle on access, quality, and outcomes for men and women, taking a closer look at more precise cohorts of employees so that all employees can live up to their full potential.
The Power of Personalized Cohorts
Employers tend to think of designing benefits for employee cohorts. They may look at millennial families or ‘moments that matter.’ However, if employers segment their cohorts into another layer, that’s where you often find gaps in coverage or needs that haven’t been addressed.
Take for example, a cohort of female employees. While there is usually a lot of investment in fertility and maternity benefits for parents navigating starting a new family, it’s not the whole story of women’s health issues. When women reach 40, there's little targeted support for women at the menopause stage, which from perimenopause through menopause and post-menopause accounts for seven to 20 years of women’s working lives. Recent research shows that 75% of the women who seek care for menopausal symptoms, don't get the care they need, often because either physicians are uncomfortable talking about it or they lack the training. As a result, women in this age group—who are often at the peaks of their careers and of high value to their employers— are too often misdiagnosed or undertreated.
Midi Health, one of the companies Cindy advises, is building solutions to revolutionize care for women over 40. Their digital platform tackles womens’ health problems from menopause to mental health. Solutions like Midi, when included in an employer’s benefits program, can keep senior women at the table and keep them from stepping out of the workforce.
The Cost of the Gender Gap in Benefits Today
A recent survey found that 99% of middle-aged women feel that their symptoms are negatively affecting their careers. What’s more, 60% of the women in this age group took time off due to symptoms, 50% of the women say they're less likely to apply for a promotion. 25% of the women consider leaving their jobs altogether due to their health.
Cindy emphasizes that when we look at these numbers, we have to acknowledge that women are too often getting derailed at the peak of their careers, which has a significant impact on employers who have to make up for absenteeism, lost productivity, turnover, and other deficits that mental and physical female health problems can cause. When it costs 200% of a senior executive's annual salary to replace them, it’s easy to see the need to implement solutions that keep senior women focused and productive in leadership roles.
Cindy highlighted that 25% of employers actually spent more on health benefits in the past year by introducing child care, mental health resources, and more; however, they tend to take a more aggregated approach when thinking about demographics and what health problems employees might have. By identifying personalized cohorts, and unlearning baseline standards of care that have been based on the health needs of men, we can design solutions that create valuable positive outcomes for women and their families.
There are many innovative companies with new digital solutions for women of different backgrounds and in different stages of their lives—Cindy advises Kindbody, Midi Health, and Mae Health just to name a few. When we consider underdiagnosed women’s health issues as we would mental health or cancer, and the business case for keeping women in the workforce, we begin to understand that taking care of women is taking care of everyone.
Cindy’s Recommended Resource
On every episode of Better Benefits, we ask our expert guests for a book or resource they’d recommend to others working in the benefits space. This week, Cindy recommended I've Been Thinking . . . The Journal: Inspirations, Prayers, and Reflections for a Meaningful Life by Maria Shriver.
Shriver, as an ex-reporter and former First Lady of California, dives into how she found value and purpose in advocacy, awareness, and activism around various issues that can make women’s lives better. Many call the book “the graduate program of life” that can help inspire and drive women forward by helping them navigate the unpredictable and stressful twists and turns of everyday life. Cindy left us with one powerful message to reflect on—
“I love being a woman. I love the energy I can bring into a space. I love being different from men. I love working from both my femininity and my strength. May we reassure ourselves that being a woman isn't a liability, it's an asset. Like any asset, you must invest in it, care for it, recognize its uniqueness, and nurture it forward. If you're a woman, never doubt that you belong at the table. Never doubt that you bring something to it. And never forget to save a seat for someone else.”
If you’d like to connect with Cindy you can message her on Linkedin.
Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Cindy Gentry, Kindbody, Midi Health, and Mae Health are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Brella Insurance Inc. To learn more about Brella, check out our plan and get in touch.