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Benefits Strategies

Women's Health: Four actions for employers to address equity gaps

Learn how employers can bridge equity gaps in women's health through affordable healthcare, mental well-being, reproductive benefits, and more.

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Women need greater employer support when it comes to the provision of healthcare and the creation of a culture of safety and well-being.

Our Health on Demand research shows that men are faring better than women when it comes to mental health and psychological safety, and even in relation to healthcare access and affordability.

This is a critical issue. Both female and male employees note it is important that their employers strongly support women’s health with internal/external statements, reporting and/or tangible actions. In fact, it was deemed to be the second most important issue after living wages, with 72% of all respondents saying it was extremely or very important. The general interests and equity of women came fourth, as identified by 69% of respondents.

Understanding the gaps

Despite the clear demand from employees for businesses to support and protect women’s equity and health, major gaps persist.

Closing the gaps begins with benefits design. There is strong evidence to suggest that much more can be done when it comes to providing essential women’s healthcare coverage. In fact, the research revealed that only 55% of women say that the benefits they are offered at work meet their needs.

This has a significant impact on the way that women view the firms they work for. For instance, just 53% of women in the findings agree that leaders throughout their organizations are committed to and support a healthy culture, compared to 60% of men. Less than half say that their employers design jobs with health and well-being in mind.

All of this creates an environment in which women are less likely to thrive in their roles, as shown by recent Health on Demand research of more than 17,000 employee voices. This is a major missed opportunity, as adapting benefits to meet women’s needs can lead to a happier, more engaged and more loyal workforce.

Key areas to address

There are four key areas where employers can do more to support women:
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26% of women are not confident they can afford the healthcare they or their family might need, compared to just 18% of men. At the moment, benefits programs are currently targeted towards senior managers and high earners. However, employers can “flip the pyramid” and make sure that healthcare benefits are available to the broader workforce, including lower earners and part-time workers, many of whom are women.

Half of women say they are stressed in everyday life, compared to 44% of men. This should come as no surprise when 69% of women identify as caregivers. Worryingly, 55% of women say they have worked while mentally unwell in the past year. This is likely influenced by the fact that many have to juggle the responsibilities of work and caregiving. Affordability, accessibility and the time it takes to obtain treatment are barriers to accessing the mental health care that employees need. To address these issues, employers can review benefits programs and employee assistance programs (EAPs) to ensure that there is strong mental health provision. This provision should include access to in-person and digital counselling services, and support for neurodiverse children. Flexibility should also be provided for caregiving appointments.

Our research shows that women have a lot of unmet needs when it comes to reproductive health, and that this is the case across all life stages. Indeed, there is a big gap between the benefits women want and those that are provided by employers. The most helpful reproductive health benefits (as cited by women) are preventative cancer screenings (51%), menopause support (47%), fertility support (40%) and contraception access and coverage (39%).

Women report being less able to speak their minds without fear of negative consequences than their male counterparts (54% versus 62%). They also felt less able to be their authentic selves, less comfortable speaking to their managers about mental health issues, and more likely to have worked when physically unwell. This points to poor culture and tone from the top. When asked what work factors have the potential to cause burnout, women said: work pressures (59%), poor leadership (40%) and toxic culture (39%). Addressing these issues should be a key priority for all firms.

Source: Mercer Marsh Benefits. Health on Demand 2023

Actions to consider: How to succeed

Women face specific health challenges and too often feel overlooked by employers. They feel that their employees could do more when it comes to designing jobs and benefits that work for them. There is a huge opportunity here for employers to make a real difference that will be valued by the women in their workforce.

Helping women thrive at work should now be a priority for employers and benefits design. It is key to achieving a fully inclusive workforce.

Four key steps to addressing gaps in women’s health coverage:

Understand how your current program is seen by women in your organization

Does what you’re offering meet their needs? Where are the gaps? Get to know your employees and what is important to them.

Care for the caregivers within your workforce

Do this by reviewing caregiving-specific benefits, including subsidies for child/adult care, navigation to caregiving resources, digital health solutions for children, and benefits eligibility for extended family members, such as parents.

Tailor benefits packages to cater for women’s health needs at all life stages

Consider the following universal health issues: cancer, maternal health, violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and non-communicable diseases.

Place a particular focus on mental well-being and psychological safety

Work to create a “culture of caring,” where leaders practice and promote openness and are willing to listen.

Meet the authors

Placeholder Image

Jennifer Schmidt

Partner and Innovation Leader | Mercer Marsh Benefits

  • Canada

UK Workplace Health Consulting Team Leader 
Mercer Marsh Benefits

Alison Byrne

UK Workplace Health Consulting Team Leader, MMB

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