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Empowering the 80 Percent: Addressing women’s health disparities

2020 has tested the healthcare industry greater than any other time in history, making it challenging and often impossible to receive care. However, long before the pandemic, women and particularly women of color have been systemically underrepresented and overlooked. This often leads to inadequate and sometimes detrimental treatment of the very people who are most likely to care for others when they get sick.

At Egg Strategy, we elevate the voices of the underserved and have spent the better part of two decades representing women, identifying persistently unmet needs, helping to position brands to fill the many gaps that exist, and perhaps most importantly, shining a light on the inequities females face throughout healthcare.

In an effort to disentangle the causes behind this inequality, and strive to reveal a path forward, we look to the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) to guide us. This framework positions health as a function of the environment people are born into and one shaped by the distribution of wealth. It’s an effective lens to help us unveil some of the reasons why women face inequitable quality and access to healthcare.

The government emerges as perhaps the most influential determinant of women’s health care. Lawmakers indirectly influence health through policy which impacts funding for SDoH like housing, transportation, education, etc. More directly, many women depend on government-funded or protected reproductive and routine health services. Many legislative decisions, like the recent SCOTUS ruling allowing employers to decline contraceptive coverage for employees or students based on religious reasons, also disproportionately impact the health of women.

Another contributing factor may be that women are more likely to assume responsibility for caregiving and household duties and therefore are more likely to de-prioritize paid work than their male counterparts. Despite efforts to dismantle social and gender norms, a vast majority of women take on the majority of household responsibilities according to a recent survey. This may contribute to the reality that women are overrepresented in marginal and lower-authority jobs that come without paid benefits, including health insurance. These conditions not only fuel economic inequality but also threaten women’s means to prioritize and pay for healthcare services.

Social and institutional influences aside, when women do gain access to care, they are systemically disadvantaged because until 1993 it was legal to exclude females and people of color from clinical research used to inform standards of care. Additionally, many health professionals admit they know less about women’s bodies than they do about men’s and have been habituated not to trust women when they report their own symptoms. We see these harmful consequences come to life in a number of ways. U.S. women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed during a heart attack than a man. They are also likely to suffer with pain for 11 minutes longer than a man diagnosed with the same condition. Additionally, U.S. women or are more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than in any other developed nation. These consequences are doubly true for women of color, with mortality rates more than three times greater than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts.

While it is necessary to address the root causes of inequity, systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. So, how can we improve the situation in the short-term? Providing women with resources to overcome the challenges they face can make a profound impact. Female-focused companies, like Maven, Tia, or Gennev, are recognizing and authentically responding to the uphill battles women face when it comes to health equity. By creating products and services uniquely tailored to give women a leg up, they are quickly outperforming their competition, or in some instances, capitalizing on the first-mover advantage. Delivering on the unmet needs of female consumers represents a tremendous opportunity for meaningful growth.

Considering this, how can brands close the gap in education, access, and quality in women’s healthcare? As a brand consultancy that works across categories, we believe the gateway to making an impact is through empathy – and we’re here to help add nuance to your conversations by uncovering the why behind your consumers’ how, particularly when it comes to seeing and designing for them as a whole, inclusive of their social determinants like class, race or gender.

1 AARP (2015). Caregiving in the U.S. Collins, C., Landivar, L. C., Ruppanner, L., & Scarborough, W. J. (2020). COVID‐19 and the gender gap in work hours. Gender, Work & Organization. doi:10.1111/gwao.12506

3 Matoff-Stepp, S., Applebaum, B., Pooler, J., & Kavanagh, E. (2014). Women as Health Care Decision-Makers: Implications for Health Care Coverage in the United States. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 25(4), 1507-1513. doi:10.1353/hpu.2014.0154

4 Nabel, E. G. (2000). Coronary Heart Disease in Women — An Ounce of Prevention. New England Journal of Medicine, 343(8), 572-574. doi:10.1056/nejm200008243430809

5 Fillingim, R. B., King, C. D., Ribeiro-Dasilva, M. C., Rahim-Williams, B., & Riley, J. L. (2009). Sex, Gender, and Pain: A Review of Recent Clinical and Experimental Findings. The Journal of Pain, 10(5), 447-485. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2008.12.001

6 Studnicki, J., & Fisher, J. W. (2018). Recent Increases in the U.S. Maternal Mortality Rate. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 131(5), 932-934. doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000002603