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Uncovering the gender gap: Women’s health issues take center stage

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September 11, 2023
By Todd Humber

Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series tackling women’s health issues in the workplace and what employers, HR and leaders can do to make a difference. It’s based on a special roundtable conversation held by Talent Canada, in partnership with Sun Life, that took a deep dive into the issue. View the special section.

Discussions around women’s health are continuing to gain momentum in the media, a spotlight and focus that is both warranted and long overdue.

That was the consensus from a special panel discussion, held by Talent Canada in partnership with Sun Life, that took an in-depth look at women’s health issues in the workplace.

Carmen Klein, vice-president of HR and change management at Cadillac Fairview, said the health of all workers is “super important.”


“But being a man or a woman has a significant effect on our health in different ways, both for biological and gender reasons, and there are knowledge gaps as it relates to women’s health,” she said.

That’s because a lot of medical research, historically speaking, has been skewed towards men — leavings gaps in the understanding of conditions such as cardiovascular health, which can affect women differently.

She shared the story of her brother who had a heart attack three years ago at the gym. He had the classic symptom of heavy chest pressure. He called 911, was taken to the hospital and was fine.

“What I learned is that my risk is now double, because my sibling had a heart attack,” she said. And how she experiences it could be far different than her brother.

“I might not feel the chest pain at all. It may feel like a sore neck, it may feel like a sore arm, it may feel like a sore back,” said Klein. “It’s a little scary for me.”

Panel discussion: Watch the video

A lot of women who go to their doctors with symptoms of a heart attack can be misdiagnosed, she said.

“Menopausal anxiety, depression, fatigue, a cold—[these conditions] can mean misdiagnosis,” Klein added. “So when it comes to women’s health in the spotlight, I think it’s a great thing.”

Krista Hogan, director, product solutions, at Sun Life, discussed the stigmatization of many women’s health issues.

“What makes women’s health so interesting is there’s often a stigma attached to the health issues that women face,” she said. “People can be uncomfortable talking about things like menstruation and menopause. But it really does go beyond reproductive health.”

Tiana Field-Ridley, senior program manager at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, emphasized the importance of the discussion for broader societal issues, like diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Women’s issues are a little more complex in some ways,” she said. “There’s a lot of different intersections and a lot of different cross sections that come in.”

Stuart Rudner, an employment lawyer and mediator and founder of Rudner Law, touched on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s health as one of the reasons women’s health is more in the spotlight.

“The pandemic really had a disproportionate impact on women, particularly in the workplace. I’m seeing a lot more medical leaves and a lot more constructive dismissal claims, but it all sort of gets back to the impact on women’s health.”

In many households, women still carry a heavier load when it comes to things like child care, cooking and cleaning and “all those things were just exacerbated during the pandemic.”

“We’ve seen a lot of impact on women, on stress and anxiety, which of course impacts the rest of their health — both physical and mental,” he said.

While leery of casting a stereotype, Rudner said that women tend to put others ahead of themselves.

“So even if they are suffering or under stress, they’re not going to take the time to go see a doctor,” he said. “They’re not going to take the time to go to a lawyer. They’re not going to pursue claims that they legitimately have or try to enforce their rights.”

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