Women, Health, and the Workplace

By Kristie Wellenborg

In January 2016, Mercer released an analysis of women in the international workforce entitled, “When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive.” It determined that only 60-70% of the eligible female population participate in the workforce globally; these women consist of less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than 25% of senior management roles, and less than 20% of board seats globally. Preliminary Vitality insights suggest that the percentage of female employees varies hugely by industry sector, with highest rates in the healthcare and education. Companies with female CEOs have higher female workforce percentages and female CEOs tend to be more engaged in healthy lifestyle behaviors compared to male CEOs.

The Mercer analysis found that companies with larger female representation in the workplace had higher returns on sales, equity, and invested capital; higher operating rates; and greater stock price appreciations. This is echoed by the study released today, based on 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries, which correlates women in the highest corporate offices with increased profitability.

One entity that has recognized this female leadership trend is British-based Barclays Bank PLC, which created a “Women in Leadership Index.” The exchange-traded notes allow investors access to a “female leader” sector of the trade market, including only companies with female CEOs or companies with at least 25% women on the board of directors.

A fundamental building block of gender diversity in the workplace is health. Poor health, unhealthy behaviors, child-care, and stressors related to balancing work and life can force women out of the workplace.

The Mercer study found that companies that offer flexible work schedules and maternity leave have higher female representation and retention in the workplace, especially when actively managing the employees before and after maternity leave.

Healthier employees save companies money in the long-run. Health needs differ between men and women, so according to Dr. Anula Jayasuriya – who founded EXXClaim Capital to invest in women’s healthcare needs – companies should take various steps to keep their female employees healthy, including:

  • Education: raise awareness on how presentation of disease differs between men and women, e.g. for heart attacks
  • Ensure women have time for health screenings: allow time off for mammograms, HPV tests, colonoscopies, etc.
  • Make taking care of health a priority:
    • Work with health and well-being companies, such a”>The Vitality Group, to promote health behaviors including health screenings, nutrition, and physical activity
    • Promote and allow time for maternal antenatal care
    • Provide private areas for breastfeeding or expressing milk

Statistics show that women are a vital and beneficial element in the workplace. Organizations need to promote health awareness and well-being to retain women for sustainable, long-term prosperity.

Taking it a step further, having companies report on non-financial issues, including gender diversity and health, is one way to to put the spotlight on such topics that have historically not always been given the attention they deserve and yet are essential to long-term growth and sustainability.


Image credit: Steve Spangler Science Blog

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