In the year since COVID-19 devastated millions of lives, it is clear to see what sits at the epicenter of the crisis: the health and well-being of women. As the world commemorates International Women’s Day on March 8, organizations are also working toward their post-pandemic recovery—prompting us to examine women’s wellness as the pulse of a healthy business.
We invited Laurie Cooke, president and CEO of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, and Diane Schwartz, CEO of Ragan Communications, to share their insights about women’s health and wellness as a business imperative.
In what ways are your organizations establishing women’s wellness as a priority?
Laurie Cooke: The HBA is a global nonprofit organization comprised of individuals and organizations from across the healthcare industry—many working tirelessly at the front lines of the pandemic. The words healthcare, business, and women appear in the name of our organization, so women’s wellness informs much of what we do. One of our central tenets is to provide effective resources and practices that enable organizations to realize the full potential of their female talent by working with the individual and corporate level.
Diane Schwartz: In today’s workplace, a woman’s potential is defined not only by skills and experience but also by the ways an employer helps employees thrive.
It’s the reason Ragan’s Workplace Wellness Insider launched with a mission to cover corporate well-being in all its dimensions, from mental health and financial health to social wellness and physical health. The pandemic has put into sharp focus the plight of working moms and those in service industries who’ve lost their jobs, to the tune of 2.5 million women. Vice President Kamala Harris recently called it a national emergency, and corporate America needs to be mindful not only of the women in their ranks but also the women leaving their ranks.
How is women’s health connected to the success of businesses?
Laurie Cooke: Business resiliency cannot exist without healthy female employees. Copious data exists that supports that women are critical to driving successful business outcomes. In fact, let’s consider that one in three women hold jobs that are considered essential. Many women are serving in vitally important societal functions such as healthcare, social work, food processing, farming, or working from home while in a primary caregiving role. The weight of these separate responsibilities is already heavy—all together, the burden can take a substantial toll on women, and therefore their families and their companies.
Diane Schwartz: Healthy women mean healthy business.Workplaces can collapse without having fundamental resources in place to support the health needs of women. Employers today are offering innovative programs that nurture women’s careers by protecting their health, with benefits such as breastfeeding and pumping facilities at work, and paid leave for childbirth and eldercare. Such reforms are the result of the work of allies and advocates, including the many women who are now in strategic roles throughout management, as we have seen with Ragan’s Top Women in HR Awards honorees.
What should businesses keep in mind now about the future of women’s wellness at work?
Laurie Cooke: Gender parity and equity supports the stability of women’s health, which allows them to participate fully at work. Research shows that greater gender balance drives better business results, more innovation, and high employee retention. Often there are structural barriers at organizations, such as inequitable policies and unconscious bias, which hinder positive business outcomes. That’s why the HBA established the Gender Parity Collaborative, a unique consortium of healthcare and life-sciences companies committed to systemically accelerating progress in achieving a balanced representation of genders at all levels of leadership.
Diane Schwartz: Public attention has intensified now, but women’s health interests have been a major force in our nation’s economic history for many years. During World War II, U.S. government-subsidized day care centers were a factor in mobilizing the “Rosie the Riveter” generation, whose women entered the workforce amid a depleted labor pool. Looking ahead, businesses face a similar call to arms. This time, the rise of workplace wellness as a business imperative will bring together the fields of HR, health, and communications—in which large numbers of women work—to establish a group of professionals with a unique mandate. Workplace wellness will give businesses both a competitive edge and an inspiring purpose that will attract female talent, clients, and other decision-makers.