Patricia Doykos, Executive Director of Health Equity at Bristol Myers Squibb, breaks down ways to advance and prioritize women’s health and careers. Bristol Myers Squibb is a WBENC Corporate Member, America’s Top Corporation for Women’s Business Enterprises honoree, serves on the WBENC Healthcare Advisory Board and contributes in valuable ways to many WBENC programs and events.
Experts report that COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on women’s employment. In 2020 alone, globally. In the United States, the pressures of the pandemic have disproportionately affected working mothers, women in senior positions and women of color, like Black and Hispanic/Latina women—illustrating how COVID-19 has reversed some of the gains these groups have made in the workplace. When we transition to full or partial returns to the workplace, it is crucial that we take action to support the women in our companies so they can achieve optimal health, wellbeing and success in their careers.
The Pandemic’s Influence on Women’s Health
Because women often take on a larger part of household duties, emotional labor and childcare responsibilities, it can be more difficult for them to put their health first. During COVID-19, mothers have been three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for child care and housework. In the workplace, even prior to the pandemic, senior-level women have been much more likely than men to feel burned out, under pressure to work more and feel as if they need to always be available. Overall, 51% of women say that the pandemic has affected their mental health.
With safety concerns and an overloaded health care system, women have delayed or entirely foregone preventative screenings for cancer, heart disease and appointments for managing chronic diseases. When asked about their experiences accessing healthcare services, a larger share of women than men said they have skipped preventative health services or recommended medical tests and treatments due to the pandemic.
Taking Action for Women’s Health in the Workplace
How can we further advance women’s health and careers? Here are some steps that executives and businesses can take:
- Focus on Wellbeing: Focusing on women’s overall wellbeing is a key opportunity to support women employees’ health. Women employee affinity groups can be leveraged for support and help deliver health-related educational programming. The Bristol Myers Squibb Network of Women (B-NOW) is our People and Business Resource Group that drives business performance by embracing gender diversity and ensuring that all women at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) have equal opportunities to develop and advance to their desired career levels.Beyond the workplace, consider collaborating with organizations whose missions are to educate and engage women in their health and wellness. At BMS, we have donated $11.1 million in grants to non-profit organizations that improve access to high-quality care, disease awareness and education for medically underserved communities. Among these are women-focused grantees like Breastcancer.org, Share Self-Help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer Inc. and the National LGBT Cancer Network.
- Promote Re-engagement in Health: The recent decline in preventative care will have lasting consequences on women’s health, and in turn, their professional success. Urge women to re-engage in their own health and wellness by stressing the importance of scheduling preventative screenings and annual wellness exams—early detection is crucial to achieving optimal health outcomes. Additionally, despite the significant uptick in mental health concerns over the past year, only 15% of women sought treatment during the pandemic. However, creating policies to give employees a chance to re-engage may help. For example, to allow time for healing, rest and family bonding, in 2020, B-NOW and HR leadership collaborated to expand BMS’s parental leave policy by offering paid leave to both mothers and fathers, including for adoption and fostering. BMS also offers days of rest, where employees can focus on themselves and their needs without the stress of work. Of course, the root causes of burnout aren’t solved by a day, or even a week, off. This is why employers should also encourage the use of Employee Assistance Programs to help provide necessary life and mental health care support.
- Boost Representation: As a business owner, you can help advance women’s health equity by ensuring that women are represented throughout your company, especially at the executive level. In 2015, BMS reached gender parity across its workforce. However, it is now working towards gender parity at the executive level globally. Women in leadership positions have the power to influence conversations on women’s health and well-being, and their perspectives can help to foster an even healthier workplace where women and other employees can thrive.
Ensuring women’s health has a double bottom line—we all must do our part to guarantee health equity for women as their health is the very foundation of the wealth they create in all aspects of their lives, both inside and outside of the workplace.