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Opinion

How can employers use a data-driven approach to protect women’s wellbeing in the workplace?

By Emma-Louise Fusari, founder of In-House Health

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Emma-Louise Fusari

You cannot drive strategy for change without key health data, says Emma-Louise Fusari. Here she shares what employers can do to protect women’s wellbeing in the workplace.

“Organisations need to think about the whole person, not just the worker. Leaders need to add wellbeing measurements to their executive dashboards,” details Gallup in their State of the Global Workforce 2022 Report.

The report found record levels of stress. Nowhere in the world were female workers less stressed than their male colleagues.

When asked, 47 per cent of working women reported stress “a lot of the day yesterday,” compared with 42 per cent of working men.

Wellbeing is declining among employed women, whether or not they have children, faster than among working men. This is worrying considering there is a disparity in health outcomes for women.

Research has found that women are regularly misdiagnosed, receive poorer medical advice and have poorer quality medical outcomes than men.

So how can employers use a data-driven approach to protect women’s wellbeing in the workplace?

Data is essential to enable leaders to make good business decisions, yet when it comes to employee wellbeing, it’s often missing, therefore unable to influence strategy and identify areas of support that are needed.

You cannot drive strategy for change without key health data and this data should be the foundation of your workplace health and wellbeing solutions!

Leaders need to be thinking and acting more proactively and using data to prevent problems before they arise.

Here are the five Ps and ways in which employers can use a data-driven approach to help improve women’s* wellbeing in the workplace.

Participation

Women need to be involved in decisions about women’s wellbeing at work. Before making changes, first, collect feedback and data from employees to assess both the business and people’s needs.

This is essential to increase buy-in, and engagement, and to get more accurate findings for your organisation.

Many women’s health issues remain taboo and have an unwanted stigma attached to them so proceed with sensitivity and compassion.

Data can be gathered through anonymous employee wellbeing surveys or health checks provided by an external partner.

Ensure questions are asked to address what good support looks like and what can practically be done to offer that support. What can your organisation do to break down the barriers associated with women’s health issues?

Women’s health goes much further than menopause and pregnancy and data should be collected in other areas too, including but not exclusive to gynaecological conditions, fertility, pregnancy loss, mental health, cancer, violence against women and heart disease – the biggest cause of deaths in women.

Personalisation

Collect (anonymous) data from employee health checks. This will help on two levels.

Firstly, it will allow you to identify current needs and respond with targeted education and resources specific to your workforce.

Secondly, for individuals, a data-driven and personalised approach will result in greater health improvement.

Providing employees with health checks and lifestyle assessments (the tools used to extract the data from them) not only promotes higher morale and self-worth – but engages them in their health and wellbeing.

Approximately 70 per cent of individuals who have a workplace health check, make positive lifestyle changes that improve their health.

We know a one size fits all approach rarely works and it’s no different when it comes to women’s health and an individual’s journey.

This is an opportunity for you to enable the women in your organisation to look at what their specific needs are and provide support for them to achieve better outcomes.

Planning

Do you have a relevant and up-to-date workplace wellbeing strategy?

Company values should be at the heart of your strategy. Look at all areas of data from your organisation and look at what resources you have available to address the needs identified.

What can you realistically afford to pay for? Can you allocate time to spend on delivering what you say you can? Have people had the appropriate training and do they have the right skills to embed wellbeing into your culture?

Data is really valuable when it comes to strategy writing as it results in you aiming to improve the key problem areas affecting your employees. Communication is key here when workflows and processes are implemented to help improve women’s health.

Prevention

We have all heard the saying that prevention is better than cure. Yet as a society, we are still very reactive in most everyday situations.

We all know that stress is impactful on our mental health, but how often do we think about the physical damage it is causing?

There are many women’s health issues that can’t be prevented. However, there are some that can and others where symptoms can be improved through a change in lifestyle behaviours.

As well as using data for identifying current health issues, it can also be used to help prevent future problems from arising.

When I talk about heart disease or heart attacks, many people automatically think about a 50-something-year-old white man clutching his chest.

You might recall that I said ischemic heart disease is the biggest killer of women globally. The risks of which can be prevented through good lifestyle habits and good working conditions.

You can read about the symptoms of a heart attack for women here.

What impact do preventable long-term conditions have on an individual, their community and your organisation? What can you do to prevent this? Identifying problems before they become a crisis can only be positive for everyone involved.

Policy

Adopt inclusive policies for the women in your organisation. Your policies should consider experiences that are particularly common but that are presently overlooked in the workplace.

Use data and participation groups to find out what benefits and support the women in your organisation would like.

Policies may look at issues such as menstrual symptoms, infertility and menopause (both peri-menopause and post-menopause).

They may look to incorporate flexible working, including working from home, paid leave for fertility treatment, miscarriage and pregnancy loss policies, and continuous professional development.

Research highlights that only half of the women reported they felt that their employers were supportive with regard to health issues and 66 per cent do not feel comfortable discussing their health at work.

Now is the time that employers can use a data-driven approach to support women, not just because it can make a significant difference to productivity, retention and bottom-line profits, but because it’s the right thing to do.

 

*This article explores women’s wellbeing. However, workplace culture, policies, and wellbeing initiatives should also take into consideration the needs of people who identify as non-binary, transgender, or intersex and may also experience these issues.

Emma-Louise Fusari is the founder of In-House Health, a welltech company that connects the physical and digital workplace to help maintain high performance through data-led wellbeing decisions.

 

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Opinion

‘We are not allowed to talk about our bodies’: why we need to address social media censorship

By Clio Wood, women’s health advocate and founder of &Breathe

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Social media censorship is just another example of women’s issues being sidelined and women being made, yet again, to feel small.

The gender data gap is huge and, if you’ve ever read the great Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women, you’ll know what I mean. It touches every day of a female life.

That impact includes social media too. Because while the social media platforms are notoriously secretive about their internal workings, it’s a pretty safe bet that social media algorithms, like most of the rest of life, are built on male data and trained on male behaviours.

This means that as long as women have different behaviours and priorities of what they want to see on these platforms, we’re going to find it a struggle.

Meta and Tiktok are silencing women’s health and sexual wellbeing content. Censorship harms women’s health: it increases women’s pain, and disempowers women, which in turn means the gender health gap cannot close. What annoys you when you’re on your phone scrolling has long-lasting impact for us and our children.

I’ve experienced this censorship first hand on Instagram, with my reach being restricted for simply posting a body confidence reel of me dancing in a bikini.

That in itself – one example of many – is infuriating, but what’s especially galling is that everyday men’s health topics are left uncensored, and hyper sexualised women’s bodies, unsolicited “dick pics” and fake accounts using nearly naked female profile pictures are making their way into social media feeds and inboxes unchecked. The hypocrisy of the situation is clear.

All the while charities are being forced to use male nipples instead of female ones, and female-led period brands are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds when their ad accounts get deleted.

Creators, charities, medical practitioners and brands are being censored constantly through algorithms picking up words like sex, vagina, vulva, or period. Which are all normal human functions or body parts and integral to these creators’ missions. You can’t be a period care brand without talking about periods.

CensHERship aims to alter the trajectory of the current algorithms and end the routine censorship of women’s health content online

Creators end up using written symbols and numbers to disguise these words and bleep them out in speech to try to get around this censorship.

It’s examples like this that finally led me – after many years of finding this situation ridiculous – to do something about it.

Together with Anna O’Sullivan, we’ve created CensHERship, a campaign which aims to alter the trajectory of the current algorithms and hopefully restore some balance to what is allowed on social media. Our ultimate aim is to bring the platforms to the table for discussion by this time next year.

We launched a survey in late January 2024 to try to collect as much information as we can about the incidences of muting and censorship that female creators are experiencing, whether they are educators, charities, brands or medical professionals. The results emphasised that this is a widespread issue taking in all of women’s health and sexual wellbeing.

In tandem we hosted an intimate roundtable to launch the CensHERship campaign and found, to our astonishment, that the problem goes much deeper than social media. Women’s health and sexual wellbeing brands are being refused bank accounts, insurance and being kicked off payment platforms without warning.

Social media censorship is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just one more example of women’s issues being sidelined and women being made, yet again, to feel small.

We’re not being allowed the freedom to talk about our own bodies and health, because speaking up goes against the male-gaze archetype of the female role and body. Let’s end CensHERship once and for all.

Clio Wood is a women’s health advocate, journalist, author and Founder of &Breathe.

Anna O’Sullivan is a communications and marketing professional and writes FutureFemHealth 

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Opinion

Revolutionising women’s health: the rise of femtech innovations

By Jo Barnard, founder and creative director of Morrama

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In the fast-evolving landscape of female technology, 2024 is poised to mark a pivotal year in growth and innovation.

Investors are increasingly recognising the vast potential of a typically overlooked audience, which encompasses 45+ year-old women with disposable income and actively seeking solutions.

As the femtech sector continues to gain momentum, we can anticipate the introduction of innovative features, products and services – such as intelligent menstrual cups, connected pads addressing menstrual cramps and wearables with hot flush detection capabilities, all with an growing focus on the unique needs of the individual.

Removing the guesswork through data

Whilst we mustn’t devalue leading medical advice on female health – including period complications, fertility, and menopause – they can feel like one-size-fits-all treatments that are only offered in the more severe cases. In reality, women’s health is a very personal and nuanced journey. The next few months promise the advent of smarter versions of pre-existing products, in an effort to help women understand their bodies better.

Take Emm, for instance. The company created a menstrual cup embedded with sensors to track menstrual flow, providing users with valuable insights into their menstrual health.

Similarly, wearables such as FemSense utilise advanced algorithms to predict ovulation with 99.7 per cent accuracy. These cutting-edge digital and physical devices help unlock new insights into the complexities of the female body, paving the way for more informed decision-making and improved health outcomes.

Addressing gaps in conventional treatments

While the femtech sector continues to push the boundaries of innovation, it also seeks to address long-standing gaps in the provision of medical solutions for various female health issues.

Conventional treatments, such as contraceptive pills for managing period pains, IVF for fertility problems or hormone replacements for menopause often fall short in meeting the diverse needs of women.

Against this backdrop, femtech brands are pioneering a more specialised and inclusive approach – as highlighted by brands like Tina, which I explore into more detail below – tailoring products to specific demographics, including people of colour, individuals with physical constraints and those with distinct religious beliefs.

Prioritising design, technology, and user experience

Central to the femtech revolution is a strategic focus on design and technology, aimed at enhancing the quality of life for women across the globe. Leading brands such as Emm, Embr and Tina are at the forefront of this movement, developing solutions that not only empower women but also drive positive societal change.

Tina’s aim, for example, is to create inclusive design for all bodies and abilities, engineered with anatomy in mind. Their tampon applicator takes into account correct angles and depth, and prides itself in being “first-period friendly”, reducing the stigma surrounding women’s health for the next generations.

These brands can only achieve this by opening up the conversation and incorporating feedback from diverse communities in order to deliver products that resonate with women from all walks of life.

In addition, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January offered valuable insights into the evolving landscape of femtech, where innovation is not solely defined by radical disruptions but by incremental improvements to existing products and services.

Highlights from the show included: Movano Health’s Evie Ring, a smart health ring utilising AI to analyse women’s menstrual and sleep data; and Vivoo’s new at-home smart UTI test, showing that a dipstick test can be beautiful and utilising the capabilities of smartphones to give more accurate readings.

With femtech brands historically focusing on function over aesthetics, it’s positive to see companies considering smarter delivery mechanisms, more thoughtful design and more personalised educational pathways. The result is that women feel more empowered and valued as individuals.

Importance of research and evidence-based practice

However, as femtech continues to grow and develop, it’s also crucial not to lose sight of the importance of scientific rigour and evidence-based practice. For every truly science-based solution there will inevitably be a flood of lower quality copycats and brands promoting products that serve only as a placebo.

Building trust in femtech solutions requires a commitment to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement. Only by investing in rigorous scientific enquiry can we ensure that femtech products and services meet the highest standards of safety, efficacy and reliability.

A bright future for femtech

I’m excited for the future of femtech. As we look ahead to the next few months and beyond, let us embrace innovation, inclusivity, open-mindedness and evidence-based practice as our guiding principles.

More than ever, the industry has the potential to usher in a new era of personalised, proactive and women-centred healthcare, making a meaningful impact on women’s quality of life as well as the broader population as well.

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Opinion

How the UK’s ‘pharmacy first’ policy will change women’s healthcare

By Katherine Bridges, head of brand and clinical lead at the pharmacy app Charac

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On the January 31, the UK government will roll out its long-awaited “pharmacy first” policy, a measure designed to cut the size of the NHS backlog – which currently stands at around 7.6 million patients.

With “pharmacy first”, patients suffering from various lesser ailments – such as sore throats and shingles – will be directed to their local pharmacy as their first port of call.

Pharmacies will also be able to supply certain prescription medicines. It is hoped that this will ease pressure on Britain’s seriously overstretched hospitals and GPs.

The policy is set to transform healthcare provision in the UK, which is important for women’s health across the country. If the policy can be carried through successfully, women’s access to NHS will improve in a number of ways. The success of “pharmacy first” will, however, rely on a big technological upgrade to Britain’s 11,500 high-street pharmacies.

Improving women’s access

This shift of several key medical functions to Britain’s pharmacies will give women easier access to important medicines and treatments. For instance, under “pharmacy first” patients will be able to pick up prescription medicine for urinary tract infections (UTIs) from pharmacies; previously this required a GP appointment beforehand.

This change will be especially valuable for women, given that this ailment disproportionately affects women, with roughly 50 per cent experiencing one over the course of their lives.

Crucially, under the new policy, women will also be able to purchase contraceptive pills at their pharmacies without seeing a GP. It is vitally important, but easily prescribed and administered medications such as this that will see “pharmacy first” freeing up countless of hours of GP and hospital time.

Further, the reduction of pressure on GPs and hospitals will improve women’s access to critical medical procedures and treatments. For instance, the policy will put a dent in the NHS’s mastectomies backlog, which is currently putting thousands of women in the UK at a greater risk of breast cancer.

Femtech critical to making a success of “pharmacy first”

Of course, “pharmacy first” represents a very large administrative and operational task for Britain’s high-street pharmacies.

It is uncertain whether these pharmacies, in their current state, will be able to meet the challenge. Community pharmacies are often small and family run. As such, they find it difficult to afford key labour-saving technologies that cut costs and free up time.

These pharmacies’ internal systems are often ramshackle and antiquated. Many still run on paper, making everything from prescriptions to payroll arduous and time-consuming.

It is clear that these pharmacies will need to undergo a big technological upgrade as the policy is rolled out this year. Femtech will play a key role in this effort.

Femtech technologies could help pharmacists manage the transition to a greater scope of provision. For instance, femtech companies, such as Vivoo’s at-home women’s UTI test, could help pharmacists manage the task of treating this common women’s ailment.

Another would be the online self-assessment system Tuune, which matches women to the contraceptive treatment appropriate to their particular hormonal profile.

Innovations like these will be an essential part of women’s healthcare in the age of “pharmacy first”, driving efficiencies in high-street pharmacies and expanding women’s access to treatment.

The future of health tech will empower women

Other health technologies will help amplify the impact of femtech. Apps, such as Charac, offer a dashboard for both pharmacists and their customers, allowing customers to book pharmacy appointments and get their prescriptions delivered to their door.

These kinds of accessible, integrated health tech systems that will prove so valuable in the age of “pharmacy first” will also help improve patient outcomes for women. One of the primary hindrances to better healthcare for women is a lack of information and access.

Research by the Department of Health and Social Care revealed that around 85 per cent of British women did not feel comfortable talking to their GPs about their physical health, and a similar percentage can remember an occasion where they did not feel listened to by medical professionals.

Similarly, knowledge of women’s health issues is often low: less than one in five UK women felt that they had enough information on menstrual health, and less than one in 10 felt they knew enough about gynaecological conditions.

What’s clear is that a lack of information and access is leading to worse health outcomes for women than men, but health tech can make a valuable contribution – streamlining appointments and prescriptions, raising public awareness of health conditions and the treatment services that women can access and making patient outcomes and healthcare more equal.

As “pharmacy first” becomes policy, we have a chance to use the latest developments in femtech and health tech to both make a dent in the NHS backlog, and to put women’s healthcare on a surer foundation.

Katherine Bridges is head of brand and clinical lead at the pharmacy app Charac.

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