Advancing Women’s Health and Equity Through Benefits and Support

Advancing Women’s Health and Equity Through Benefits and Support

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This insight is part 08 of 10 in this Collection.

Pay Transparency and Equity

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February 29, 2024 24 mins

Advancing Women’s Health and Equity Through Benefits and Support


As companies tailor their health and benefits to meet the needs of their employees, vital areas for support include family building and menopause.

Key Takeaways
  1. Employers who focus on the unique healthcare needs of their workforce, including women’s health, can help address disparity in gender health gaps.
  2. Current challenges in women’s health include access to quality care, the cost and affordability of care and workplace culture
  3. These challenges can be addressed through education and training in the workplace, robust coverage and analytics to steer toward affordable care options

HR professionals are putting a greater focus on how their policies and practices impact one another and ultimately drive the performance of employees and the business — from retirement planning to talent management, healthcare, benefits and compensation. When it comes to healthcare and benefits, a particular area of interest is understanding and customizing plans to meet the unique needs of the workforce. And women’s health is emerging as a big topic in this space.

“There is a misconception among some business leaders that women’s health issues only affect women,” says Rafeena Ally, vice president of global benefits at Aon. “But that’s not true. Companies have a lot of male leaders, and they need to be part of the conversation from an awareness perspective.”

Ally adds that if 20 percent of a company’s population is going through menopause or struggling to start a family and not feeling supported, absenteeism may be higher, more employees will be disengaged and some will likely quit. Those costs add up. Indeed, new research1 from Harvard Business School analyzes the underlying cost of not supporting caregivers in the workplace. If sufficient caregiver support prevented five employees from quitting, it could save a company $200,000, assuming employees earn an average salary of $80,000 and carry a replacement cost of 50 percent.

“Saving money can be defined in a million ways,” notes Meredith Warton, vice president of health innovation and integrated solutions at Aon. “Not only can better benefit design and support programs impact employee productivity in a positive way, but you can also leverage the healthcare system in a way that eliminates waste or reduces ineffectual or inappropriate care.”

While significant progress has been made to improve health and wellbeing worldwide, many individuals and communities continue to be left behind. Discrimination, human rights abuses, poverty and other determinants of health contribute to health inequalities,2 often hindering personal health choices.

Women’s Health Challenges

The current healthcare landscape presents three big challenges related to women’s health:

  • Access to quality clinical care

    There are significant coverage and knowledge gaps for women’s healthcare. Women (as well as racial and ethnic minorities) are often underrepresented in clinical research, leading to sub-optimal knowledge across the provider community for diagnosing and prescribing effective treatments. This is reflected in the fact women tend to be diagnosed significantly later than men for certain sicknesses and are 50 percent3 more likely to suffer from severe medication side effects. Mental disorders, like depression and anxiety, are also more common in women compared to men. Certain disorders uniquely impact women during times of hormonal changes, such as the perinatal and perimenopausal periods.4 Even further, there is a global provider shortage leading to a lack of adequate access to quality providers across primary and certain specialty medical needs for everyone, regardless of gender.

  • The cost and affordability of care

    There is unequal cost sharing across gender-specific clinical needs and sometimes high prices on gender-specific products and services. According to research by Deloitte,5 employed women in the United States face $15 billion higher healthcare costs than employed men. Analysis suggests that an average female employee with single coverage pays about $266 more in out-of-pocket expenses each year compared to her male counterpart, a rise of nearly 18 percent.

  • Total rewards and workplace culture

    On average, women earn less than men, and therefore, retire with less savings. Women are also more likely to take time out from their career due to caring commitments, which can impact their overall financial wellbeing. Additionally, employers are at different stages of providing benefits to support women caregivers in the workplace, as well as menopausal and other gender-specific needs.

Such a large gender bias indicates an unintentional income gap for working women. To help combat this, employers should examine benefits to make quality healthcare more accessible and affordable for female employees, while also addressing broader reward inequities and workplace culture and support deficiencies.

The Impact of Menopause on Women and the Workplace

Menopause is an important phase in life where women go through significant biological changes. The changes in hormones affect the body, sleep patterns and mental health. Health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, increase significantly after menopause. At the same time, this is typically a period in life where women balance children, care for elderly family members and work.

Menopause support was not openly discussed in the workplace, even among HR professionals, until the past five to 10 years. And still, there is a society-wide lack of awareness and understanding that needs to change. Employers are in an ideal position to lead the charge on this by creating nurturing and open workplace cultures where women feel supported to talk about their symptoms. Companies should also offer flexible working options, accommodations and benefits to alleviate menopause-related health issues.

Menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic, yet nearly half don’t feel comfortable disclosing their status at work. Three in four women experiencing symptoms, translates to global menopause productivity losses of more than $150 billion a year.6

Family Building as a Key Aspect of Health Benefits

The number of people facing infertility has increased by 20 percent in the past 25 years. For those who have difficulty conceiving, 78 percent say that having fertility support or a fertility policy was very important when looking for a new employer.7 Because of this, 71 percent of companies are considering providing fertility benefits to help improve health equity across their workforce.

Family building affects both men and women. Although the benefits can vary, they usually encompass emotional, financial and clinical support for all individuals during their family-building journey, as well as legal support for surrogacy and adoption. As families grow and change, family planning benefits become increasingly important.

While universal healthcare services in many European nations offer some fertility treatments, restrictions and eligibility criteria limit access for many, leading to increased reliance on private healthcare for fertility services.8 In the UK, just over a quarter of employers have a policy in place concerning fertility treatment.9 In contrast, according to a study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, the percentage of U.S. organizations that provided family-building benefits rose from 30 percent in 2020 to 40 percent in 2023.10

Aon recently partnered with a large multinational food and beverage company to enhance its family building benefits for employees in other locations. The employer already had fertility benefits for U.S. employees and wanted to create a more cohesive and inclusive benefit experience across the employee population. Through our partnership, we helped identify gaps and create a strategy that includes working with vendors that specialize in delivering benefits.


Menopause costs U.S. employers $1.8 billion annually in lost work hours. Similarly, menopause costs the UK economy £1.88 billion in lost productivity.

Sources: Mayo Clinic and Women and Equalities Committee

Although employer recognition and support in this space are on the rise, there is still room for improvement. For example, 60 percent of LGBTQ+ couples have stated interest in starting families, yet insurance often doesn’t cover the costs. Companies can demonstrate inclusivity and build a sense of belonging among their employees by ensuring comprehensive provisions, such as parenting support, fertility assistance, and surrogacy for single parents, straight and same-sex couples alike. Such benefits can help attract and retain talent and improve productivity across the board.

Compliance considerations are another important piece of the puzzle, as different countries have different rules and laws that affect benefits. Obtaining thorough tax and legal advice is recommended. Some areas where there could be different rules or laws include, eligibility for treatments, availability of surrogate and donor coverage, and the recognition of same sex couples and surrogacy. Culturally concordant care navigation is critical to respect societal norms and optimize coverage provided through national health systems.

Three Ways Employers Can Improve Their Focus on Women’s Health

Employers are increasingly incorporating family building and women’s health initiatives into their employee benefit programs to support the unique needs of all employees. Here are three approaches to continue guiding this momentum forward:

  • Use data and analytics

    Analytics can help organizations identify opportunities to increase access for women’s health and lower costs — some of the biggest barriers to supporting women’s health in the workplace. For example, Aon’s Health, Equity and Affordability Tool (HEAT) can help firms understand and connect how healthcare costs and affordability are related to demographics, physical and mental health conditions, health habits, plan design, location, healthcare labor supply and work productivity.

  • Review benefit offerings

    A range of women’s health and family-building benefits are available for employers to tailor to their workforce population. These include:

    • Reproductive health (in the U.S., this may include travel benefits for reproductive health unavailable in the employee’s location)
    • Fertility treatment
    • Adoption concierge and legal support
    • Maternity management
    • Parenting and pediatric support
    • Caregiver and eldercare support
    • Flexible work and leave policies for caregiving and menopause
    • Menopause-friendly workplaces (e.g., dress code, cooling room)

    In addition, employers are starting to offer more proactive solutions, including robust coverage of women’s preventative care, matching network providers with the unique needs of individuals, and creating centers of excellence for fertility and family forming issues.

  • Educate and train the entire company

    We need to change the way we think about women’s health in the workplace to address the current gender gap and empower employees and managers. After all, women's health doesn’t just affect women. Training, such as a manager toolkit, should be available to both men and women and should concentrate on education and support. Employers can also encourage women-focused business resource groups, including ones for new mothers or elder caregivers, for further support.


Ninety percent of U.S. employees experiencing infertility are willing to change jobs to access fertility benefits.


Quote icon

More companies are addressing women's health and family building benefits as a way to tailor and meet the needs of their diverse workforce, bridge the gender health gap and create a more inclusive and supportive workplace for all."

Annelieke van Mens
Managing Director, Global Benefits, Health Solutions
Aon’s Thought Leaders
  • Rafeena Ally
    Vice President, Global Benefits, Health Solutions
  • Meredith Warton
    Vice President, Health Innovation, Health Solutions, North America
  • Janet Heaton
    Principal Consultant, Global Benefits, Health Solutions
  • Annelieke van Mens
    Managing Director, Global Benefits, Health Solutions

General Disclaimer

The information contained herein and the statements expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information and use sources we consider reliable, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

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