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Report shows the gender health gap continues to impact working women

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June 27, 2024
By Brandi Cowen

Women are essential to the Canadian economy and make up close to half of Canada’s workforce. However, a recent report by Sun Life shows 60 per cent of working women said health issues around menstruation, menopause and reproductive health could affect their career advancement abilities.

The report highlights the profound impact the gender health gap continues to have on working women and the barriers they face:

Four in 10 working women said they’ve made career-limiting decisions for health-related concerns or to care for their families.

Ten per cent of working women said they’ve left their jobs or were planning to leave because of menopausal symptoms.

Over 40 per cent of disability claims for women are for mental disorders, versus 30 per cent for men. Reasons include the stress of reproductive health issues.

Twenty-nine per cent of working women felt the need to lie to their managers about why they were taking sick days for women’s health issues.

“While we’ve seen progress breaking through the glass ceiling, support for women’s health issues continues to be lacking. We need more awareness and open dialogue. Talking about women’s health should be as comfortable as discussing back pain,” said Marie-Chantal Côté, senior vice-president, group benefits, Sun Life. “The gender health gap affects not only women but their workplaces and society at large. Prioritizing women’s health should be table stakes.”

A layer of the glass ceiling employers can help break

Being proactive and supportive of women’s health is crucial for employers. This can help retain talent, increase productivity, and decrease costs related to absences and leaves.

However, just 37 per cent of women said their employer provided adequate resources and support for their health needs. Additionally, only 42 per cent of working women said there was an open culture for talking about women’s health at work.

Employers can better support women by removing the stigma and creating an inclusive work environment for discussing women’s health. Providing the right tools and resources to address women’s health challenges is also key. This includes benefits like contraceptives, mental health support, physiotherapists and pelvic floor specialists, fertility procedures and hormone therapy.

For employers offering tools and resources to support women’s health, ensuring employees know what’s already available can make a profound difference.

“We started hosting employee awareness sessions about women’s health and the response has been tremendous. What I hear from everyone, including men, is how illuminating it is to learn about the challenges the women in their lives face,” said Helena Pagano, executive vice-president, chief people and culture officer, Sun Life. “We firmly believe in supporting women’s health at Sun Life. Workplaces play a vital role, from offering inclusive benefits to mental health support to hybrid work environments. Supporting people in all of life’s moments empowers them to thrive. The gender health gap is a solvable problem that benefits everyone.”

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