On International Women’s Day 2022, experts in the protection, health insurance and employee benefits sectors analyse how to break down historic and current biases towards women to facilitate better health and wellbeing.
As the protection and health insurance industry evolves, so too do attitudes towards historic biases that have affected women in terms of their health and wellbeing, career prospects and access to financial advice.
Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic brought about an opportunity for the market to better understand and address the challenges faced by women, with both physical and mental health at the top of the agenda.
In keeping with the trend of moving towards a holistic wellbeing approach, so too has attention on women's mental and physical health shifted towards taking the view of the "whole woman."
One example of this comes from Towergate Health & Protection, which advocates for employers to provide for women across the entire lifecycle, from early adulthood to menopause, and beyond - accounting for support in mental and physical health, implementing specialised training programs and making support far more accessible.
Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection, said: "Women are in the workplace from teenagers through to at least their 60's. Health and wellbeing support should, therefore, provide for their needs at all the different life stages that will be faced whilst they are working."
"Employers need to understand what support women in their workplace require. Two-way communication is key, so that women feel able to express their concerns and needs, and so that employers can inform their staff of what is available in terms of support."
Movement on the menopause
It is also positive that many firms within the protection and health space are enacting reproductive health support pathways for their female employees. Unum UK has announced today a new partnership with health insurance provider Bupa to offer all staff with female reproductive organs access to Bupa's Menopause Plan as part of a new company policy.
Jane Hulme, HR director at Unum UK, commented: "Our ethos is to put people at the heart of employee benefits and ensure that they can bring their whole self to work.
"To do that, we need to ensure we have policies that respond to the needs of our people, especially when it comes to topics surrounding reproductive health such as menstruation, menopause and infertility that are too often seen as taboo. As a growing company, we want to ensure we nurture and retain the best talent through different stages of their working life".
Dr Karolina Afors, chief medical officer at Syrona Health, told COVER earlier this year that although there has been a significant amount of positive progress among insurance providers and employers alike on the menopause, the solution will not arrive overnight. Line managers will require further education to identify "where women are suffering from menopausal symptoms and trying to put in place or to have an inclusive language where they can support their employees."
While the issue of the menopause may have historically been dismissed or undermined by employers, leading to ill mental and physical health for female employees, research by digital health platform Peppy shows that attitudes are changing for the better.
A survey among 506 HR decision makers in January found an increase in employers putting menopause support into place between September 2021 and the start of this year, (20% versus 38% respectively), while a further 17% said that plans were in place to implement support in the next 12 months.
Similarly, in September 2021, 24% of employers said they do not offer workplace menopause support and were not intending to do so; this dropped to just 10% by January this year. Despite this progress and support from HR leadership, 35% of respondents said that they believe senior leadership are more inclined to view the menopause as an issue on an individual level, rather than on an organisational level.
Dr Mridula Pore, founder of Peppy, said that historically too many women have either had to leave their employment or had to take reduced hours due to menopause symptoms: "However, these women have amassed a wealth of knowledge about the organisation in which they work and have a colossal amount of experience in their specific role - it makes good business sense for employers to do all they can to better understand how they can retain this invaluable asset."
Building better futures
As more refined support systems and pathways come into force through employers and insurance packages, attention has turned to how providing dedicated and tailored support for women can act as a driver to entice more women to being a career the financial services sector.
Tosin James-Odukoya, head of inclusion, diversity and talent acquisition at Quilter, commented that breaking down the misconception that financial services remains a "boy's club" by boosting gender diversity will both allow young women to develop successful careers and help the sector thrive.
"It's no secret that the financial services industry needs to recruit more women and from more diverse backgrounds. There are so many interesting roles within the sector but many of them are still dominated by men and this needs to change," James-Odukoya said.
"Companies across the industry must encourage more women into leadership roles as this is critical to addressing the gender pay gap and helping to produce female role models, which are crucial to attracting more female talent."
Increased engagement among women with financial services advisers should also be an ongoing objective of the protection and health insurance market. Research from Canada Life found that just over one quarter of women would use an adviser for financial advice, compared to 42% who would go to a family member or 35% that would instead use a money advice website.
Similarly, only one quarter of women surveyed that used a financial adviser did so for finding life insurance, critical illness or income protection products.
Commenting, Lara Bealing, marketing director at Canada Life, said that the results show there are "key questions that need to be asked" about how the industry can work collaboratively to ensure that financial advice "more accessible and inclusive."
For its part, the protection and health insurance sector is addressing some of the historic biases and obstacles that prevented more women from entering the profession. A glance at the recently announced COVER Women in Protection & Health Awards 2022 shortlist shows an industry packed with female talents across job roles, filled with both experienced and new-starters alike. COVER's Rising Stars of Protection series has also highlighted a number of young women making their name in the sector, illustrating how protection is breaking down the stigmas traditionally associated with financial services.
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #BreakTheBias. For further information, click here.