On Aon Podcast: Better Being Series Dives into Women’s Health

On Aon Podcast: Better Being Series Dives into Women’s Health
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May 23, 2024 21 mins

On Aon Podcast: Better Being Series Dives into Women’s Health

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Episode 76: Our Aon expert and guest discuss women’s health

Key Takeaways
  1. Episode 76 discusses strategies to include healthy patterns in the workplace.
  2. The episode shares insights into the effects of menopause on mental and physical health and careers.
  3. They touch on some leading research on improved menopausal health.

Hi everyone, and welcome to the award-winning “On Aon” podcast, where we dive into some of the most pressing topics that businesses and organizations around the world are facing. This week in a special series on resilience called Better Being, we hear from Rachel Fellowes, Aon’s Chief Wellbeing Officer with her guest, Dr. Vonda Wright, on women’s health, and specifically, menopause.

Rachel Fellowes:
Hello and welcome to Better Being with me, Rachel Fellowes. I'm the Chief Wellbeing Officer here at Aon. And I'm, surprisingly, incredibly passionate about wellbeing and human sustainability in the workplace. Now globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of a trillion dollars per year. Only around 30 percent of employees globally identify themselves as being resilient, and rates of burnout are on the rise everywhere. As a result, wellbeing has quickly moved to the top of company's priority lists with 83 percent of companies now saying they have a wellbeing strategy in place, according to research done by Aon. How organizations prioritize and integrate wellbeing can have a profound impact on employee engagement, talent recruitment and retention, and also overall business results. A wellbeing strategy needs to include physical, emotional, social, financial, and career elements at the individual level. And so, in this series, I take a look at what makes the better being at work with thought leaders and subject matter experts.

In today's episode, we're talking about women's health and specifically the menopause. Open and frank conversations about the menopause, its symptoms, and how it affects working women have only really just got going in the last few years. However, with more women working for longer, there is an increasing importance of the topic, especially when it comes to talking through wellbeing in the workplace. And I'm thrilled to have Dr. Vonda Wright as my guest talk about this important topic. Now, Dr. Wright is double board certified Orthopedic Surgeon and also an elite team doctor with over 20 years experience working with athletes and leaders across the sports and business industries. Her pioneering research and mobility and musculoskeletal aging is changing the way we view and treat the aging process, which she does not see as one of inevitable decline. Dr. Vonda has experienced caring for athletes and active people of all ages and skills level, including the division 1 Georgia State Panthers, University of Pittsburgh division 1 athletes, players in the World Rugby sevens, as well as Olympic track and field athletes, and dancers from the Atlanta Ballet. She's also a sought-after speaker, bestseller author, and an expert in managing the menopause well. Thanks for joining me, Dr. Vonda, and welcome to the show.

Dr. Vonda Wright:
Well, it's my pleasure. I'm so pleased you asked me, Rachel.

Rachel Fellowes:
So, I don't assume that any of our listeners know more about the topic than we hope. So, can we start with a very, very simple question, can you please articulate what the menopause actually is?

Dr. Vonda Wright:
Well, I think that people who are not living through menopause might be surprised to know that menopause is one day. Menopause is the 366th day after your last period. So that's almost a non-event. What the real event is are the 10 or 15 years before that and the rest of our lives after that. So, if we think of the health of a woman as a timeline, let's start in maybe mid-thirties when, believe it or not, in mid-thirties, women start hearing about their fertility being affected. For women who are thinking about fertility, that's when, and this was me, when you become an old primigravida. Meaning if you haven't had your first baby by the time you're considered old, and I'm thinking, "Oh my goodness, that's not old." But in terms of our hormones, our ovaries, which have contained all the eggs they're going to have since before you were born, the numbers are becoming very limited.

So, what that does in a woman's body is our hormones, which fluctuate every month as everyone is used to, become erratic. And between about 35 and 45, the pre-menopausal period, our hormones are sometimes steady as they've always been, but sometimes are behaving in a way that we don't recognize. So that about 45 on average, women enter a stage called perimenopause when sometimes estrogen is higher, sometimes progesterone is higher. But really what it causes is this dysregulation of the normal cycles of hormones, which is when women start to appear with all the things we hear about hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, musculoskeletal aching that is devastating for some women, this is all while still having a period. So, this pre-menopausal period is what women start to recognize that 34 or some authors say 74 symptoms of menopause until finally we reach the day, usually between 51 and 52, when you no longer have a period anymore. From that very day on, you are postmenopausal for the rest of your life.

So that could be 40 or 50 years of a woman's life that she lives without making her own estrogen and all the sequelae of that, including and from a long-term perspective most importantly, dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, which leads to frailty. So, when we talk about all these things and how it affects a working woman, imagine you are finally in the peak of your career, entering the peak of your career in your early to mid-forties, and then all of a sudden, bam, you can't trust your own body anymore. And so, when we talk about the day of menopause and perimenopause before it, and post menopause after it, we're not only talking about the physical health of a woman, we're talking about the mental health of a woman, but we're also talking about the career of a woman. And I can tell you as a surgeon in a field where 94 percent of my colleagues are men, there were not a lot of listening ears and nowhere to turn. So, from a corporate perspective, like you work in, I think our charge is to not only understand this, but to provide a way for women in their peak to thrive.

Rachel Fellowes:
I mean, there is so much richness just in that first question, Vonda, thank you. But also, education. I mean, I'm a 41-year-old woman, and some of that stuff is new to me and I'm very interested in this topic. So that in itself is fascinating. And also, education for men, like you've said, this is a whole population discussion. And I love, and I literally kind of almost drew seasons on my page as I was hearing you. It's almost like this one day is a critical chat to change from one period to the next. And I'd love to just make sure if there's anything else you want to cover on that critical point, but also the shifting attitudes of it as we started to learn more.

Dr. Vonda Wright:
Well, I think that when we understand the health of a woman across her lifespan. I love what you just said, it is a population conversation. This is not a woman's conversation. This is not a man's conversation. Any man who is partnered with a woman needs to know about this. Any woman executive who does not have a full understanding of how to do business development with her core of women, needs to know about this. Any man executive who is never going to live through this himself, needs to truly understand how to nurture the people that work for him in terms of support, in terms of frankly business development. Understanding that when you have brain fog, you can't solve the problems immediately that you did. Well, what do we do to support women doing that? Well, maybe from an HR perspective, we start thinking about hormone therapy.

We start thinking about focus groups for women to discuss what they're feeling and de-stigmatize the conversations around health because this is not fertility. This is not some secret saying, "Oh, she's having her period." This is the health of a woman, and great businesses will be interested in the health of their employees. I could go on and on forever, Rachel. I mean, you're going to have to reel me in because I mean, this is such a critical... Mayo Clinic put out a study that showed that there's $1.8 billion lost in productivity for women in their prime going through this period. And here's the thing. This is not just about baby booming women, right? This is not just about Generation X women, which I fall into. There's 110 million millennial women who are beginning to be perimenopausal. That is 51 percent of all people and a huge proponent of the workforce. We've really got to solve this. And if we don't solve this because we love the health of a woman, let's solve it from a business case.

Rachel Fellowes:
So, I know you quoted a statistic there. We've got similar ones coming from Europe. About 59 percent of women experiencing symptoms feel it has a significantly negative impact on their work. We've also had some interesting headlines coming from the BBC a couple of months ago saying that we're now exploring in Europe about finding firms that don't make reasonable adjustments for women going through these critical points.

Dr. Vonda Wright:
I saw that.

Rachel Fellowes:
So, I'm hearing all of this. Yeah, really interesting, isn't it? And I'd love to revisit the bigger business picture, but just to kind of come down to the real human level for a moment. So, what does this mean? So I am in that millennial pocket, like you said, I'm just beginning to pivot to weight. Someone told me that might be a good thing, but I was doing it more out of intuition than anything else. I also loved your paradigm of physical, mental, social, career, but these things are all messy in a whole bowl together. What advice would you give women who are going through it or edging closer? Are there any sort of leading research nuggets that we can harness from you?

Dr. Vonda Wright:
Well, I love this question, Rachel, and in fact, I have an entire series I have done, I did some market research years ago about what millennial women want. I had a woman who was 41 in my clinic yesterday, and so I'm really going to push forward along a line of thinking called 40-ish. What do women in your demographic, what are the 40-ish year old women need to do to get in front of midlife? Because frankly, we all worship youth. I'm looking behind my left shoulder now.. We're thinking about, "Oh my gosh, it was so amazing to be 25" and it was amazing to be 25, but what do we know about being 25? Physically, it's easier. We may not know ourselves quite as well at 25 as I do at 57. We don't have as much money at 25 as we're going to have by working our entire career.

And the authenticity that comes at this time of life is something to look forward to and rejoice. So, what does the 40-ish year old woman need to do to get in front of this? Okay, here it goes. Number one, you must be a student of your own health. Now is the time to start reading books like Estrogen Matters, which is the world's literature on all the studies telling us why hormone replacement therapy or menopause hormone therapy, there are lots of names for it, is a critical option not only for feeling better today, but as a preventative measure. I call estrogen the elixir of longevity for women. So that's number one. Do not just let this be a passive time in your life. What I know about millennial women is they are seekers of knowledge. They're going to look stuff up. They're going to be Googling it.

They're going to be reading it. This is a topic you cannot afford to ignore. So, number one. Number two, if you haven't started it already while you have estrogen, you have got to start lifting weights. And I prefer women lift heavier weights than light weights. I mean, we can talk all day about actual the nitty-gritty. We must build muscle mass in order to preserve our longevity and to avoid being frail. And we can talk about frailty in what I see in women in their 70s and 80s. Now's the time 40-ish year old ladies, you have estrogen. Let's get out there. And I'm just going to stop the rumor that you're going to get all buff and bodybuilding look. I mean, yes, you can if you want to, but lifting three days a week building muscle mass will not get you there. So that's not an excuse.

So, number one, educate yourself. Number two, lift weights. Number three, we do not have to go out and kill ourselves six days a week with high-intensity interval training. What we need to do at baseline is get out and take a walk 45 minutes a day. Walking at base training heart rate, 120, 130, is amazing for our mobility, for our metabolism, for our longevity. And then number four, we must adopt an anti-inflammatory nutritional plan. Now, notice I didn't call it a diet because diet connotes, let's calorie restrict, let's starve ourselves to death. Well, when we do that, we're going to lose fat, yes, but we're going to lose muscle. What we need to do is focus on green leafy vegetables, lean protein, or if you're a vegan lots of plant protein, taking in our carbs as fiber, not simple sugar.

For those of us who care, including myself, it gives us more wrinkles than we must have, and it makes us inflamed and painful. So, if you do those four things as a 40-ish year old woman, you are going to be so far ahead of the curve because you're going to enter midlife as an educated consumer taking action to really be an expert in your own health. The other thing I want you to do lastly, is I want you to surround yourself with a community of like-minded people. If you surround yourself with people who don't care about their health, who have an excuse for every reason not to be active, who God forbid are smoking and killing their lungs, it is very, very hard to live a healthy life that you envision unless you're surrounded by people who have those same goals. So, I know it sounds like a lot, but it's not because when this becomes your lifestyle, it's just how you live. There's no extra time. It's how you live.

Rachel Fellowes:
If we translate that then into the work environment, is there anything different you'd recommend for an organization? Or is it kind of encouraging the same through routines and things like that? Or is it slightly more strategic? I'd love to go there.

Dr. Vonda Wright:
I think from a very basic position, from a corporate or HR position, recognizing that the only part of a woman's health that needs support is not just fertility. I mean, many corporations have become incredibly supportive for women and families as they try to build their families. But the fact of the matter is, in a working woman's life, let's say getting out of university at 21 or something to the time of perimenopause or fertility is only 15 to 20 years. The rest of her employed time is the rest of her life, 35 to 70. So, to pretend that there is no need support in the biggest part of a woman's career is short-sighted. So, first of all, recognition. Number two, let's ask the women in our own corporations what their biggest pain point is. Let's have open conversations. Let's put lunch groups together. Let's bring the women executives into retreat in the same way that you would if you were solving a big corporate problem or setting a strategic plan for the next three to five years.

Let's bring the greatest minds together to solve our own problems. Because then once we identify what is our corporation's biggest pain points, that's how you can prioritize. Because if we just step back and you say, "Oh, Dr. Vanda says this and this", it may all be true, but it may not be what your women want. So after you identify and then prioritize, ideas without support are disappointing. So, then we have to recognize from a corporate standpoint how reinvesting profits into this critical portion of our workforce is not only the right thing to do from a human standpoint, but a good business use case, right? I mean, we're businesses. We must show ROI or KPI or whatever your acronyms are. But I think in this approach, normalizing conversation, identifying pain points, prioritizing the pain points, and then coming up behind and supporting in a financial way are some of the first critical steps that I would do if I were queen of the world.

Rachel Fellowes:
Amazing. Also, I love the campaign for Queen of the World. That's fantastic. But I think it just sounds so practical and also so obvious. Why wouldn't you ask your people about their needs? Because in particular environments, it might be different depending on the pressure they experience or the routines or the time zone challenges by way of example. So I think that's just incredibly sensible.

Dr. Vonda Wright:
Well, and I think in the same way that the mental health of our workforce has become to the forefront, and nobody's whispering about anxiety, ADHD, or depression anymore, we just know that the brain has illness just like our body has illness, and I've seen that in the last seven to 10 years. I think that from a corporate standpoint, bringing these conversations out of the whispering stage, I mean, we're whispering about women's bodily functions. It's not a secret, it just happens. So, let's just normalize a conversation and de-stigmatize it so that problems can actually be solved instead of whispered about. We don't have to be embarrassed when we name anatomy or frankly discuss this time in a person's life as an HR opportunity. I mean, when I think about it, how are you going to attract the biggest minds in the world during a time when it's hard to attract good employees? You're going to show them that you are innovatively addressing the thing that's really taken over their lives. Talk about innovative, right? A company showing people they're trying to hire, that it's about their personal bottom line, not just their financial bottom line. Does that make sense?

Rachel Fellowes:
Makes complete sense. Especially with the diversity, inclusion agenda, flexibility agenda and wellbeing agenda thrown into that mix. Absolutely fantastic. And the bearer of bad news, time flies when you're having fun. So, we're getting close to the end of our session together already. I know it's absolutely crazy. But in the show notes of this podcast, we will be sharing more about you and your phenomenal work, but you also want to make sure there's anything else you'd like to highlight, anyway you'd like to direct the listeners if they do want to learn more.

Dr. Vonda Wright:
Yes. You know what? In addition to all the places you find me on social media, including Instagram, Dr. Vonda Wright, I've taken it a step further. All of my research in academia, I'm an academic surgeon, has been on musculoskeletal aging. So, I've taken all that basic science and 25 years of caring for people and I've developed programs such as Precision Longevity, where lots of executives, lots of people at all ranks at a corporation come to me. And we gather your own personal data and design midlife plans so that you're just not taking generic advice from some magazine. But I'm saying, here's your hyper-personalized plan for becoming an expert at midlife and beyond and expanding your health span. So, we do that. It's called Precision Longevity. People are welcome to reach out to me. And then I also have amazing retreats and summits for midlife women, not only to build their own plan, but to bring the best minds in the world together to talk about these things in the way that we've just spoken about it.

Rachel Fellowes:
And that's probably the golden place if you haven't found your community yet to build it as well, off the back of those retreats. Phenomenal. Thank you so very much. So that's our show for today. Thank you for listening, everybody. In the next few months, we'll have a Better Being episode on some more important topics alongside, really complement menopause, like digital wellbeing, burnout, and financial wellbeing. So, until next time, thank you.

Thanks for tuning in to the latest episode of “On Aon” with our episode host, Rachel Fellowes, and today’s guest, Dr. Vonda Wright. If you enjoyed this episode, you can get more insights on wellbeing in the workplace and information on future podcasts by following Rachel Fellowes on LinkedIn. In the meantime, be sure to check out our show notes and visit our website at Aon dot com to learn more about Aon.

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