How Marketers Can Keep Equity-Centered Healthcare In Mind, Starting With Women

Chief Patient Officer of Publicis Health, the worldwide leader in healthcare communications.

Customer comparing medicines by rack at pharmacy


Women make up half of the U.S. population, but unwavering disparities and gaps still create challenges, especially in healthcare, which has a cascading effect on economic, health and other societal outcomes. I’d even argue that women’s health is a social issue that has been exacerbated by Covid-19 and fallout from the recent Supreme Court decision on reproductive rights.

In this article, I will explore why women’s health is bigger than women, and how marketers can ensure their work starts with women.

Women’s health impacts everyone.

When a woman doesn’t have equitable access or a full understanding of her healthcare needs, communities suffer. For example, a global study published in the journal PLOS found that healthier women and their children contribute to more productive and better-educated societies. The inverse would also seem to be true: Unhealthy women cannot contribute as many positive benefits. According to Deloitte, “when a mother dies, her family and her community experience a significant decline in health, nutrition, education, and economic outcomes.”

How does this make sense? Think about it. Women drive 83% of all U.S. consumption through their buying power and influence, and are often the CEOs and caregivers of their households, making everyday decisions for their families. When women are unhealthy, there’s a domino effect: Others aren’t taken care of in the same way because the household CEO—the woman—is unwell and unable to. Yet not every corporate or government entity in their lives is giving them the equitable support or attention they need for optimal health.

Not only do many women neglect their own health to prioritize the health of loved ones, but they’re also navigating a system that isn’t fully equitable, accessible or understanding of their specific needs. For example, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. according to the CDC, and in fact, women face an increased risk of dying from heart attacks compared to men, according to the American Heart Association. One potential cause is that not as many people recognize heart attack symptoms, which are less obvious in women, and only know the signs portrayed in paid media (i.e., significant chest pain).

Gender bias in healthcare is worsened by systemic issues such as race, geography, income, education and more. Plus, unequal representation in positions of leadership enables decisions about women’s health to become siloed and politicized. This impacts all women, but especially those who are not in a place of privilege.

Consider the fact that the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality compared to other developed nations because of complications from childbirth and pregnancy. According to the CDC, “Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.” In addition, U.S. women have the highest rate of avoidable deaths, which according to the Commonwealth Fund, indicates shortcomings in public health and care delivery systems.

For non-maternal care, many female patients regularly deal with bias. Whether it’s waiting 12 minutes longer than men with same symptoms in the emergency room or, if they’re experiencing pain, being described by doctors as “hysterical,” “emotional” or “not wanting to get better.”

I could list dozens more examples of inequitable care—but the point is, as marketers, we can and must do better to push for equitable representation of women in our everyday work, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because everyone benefits from healthy women.

Marketers must support women with equitable design.

As a mother and caregiver myself—and as a friend, colleague and family member of many other mothers and caregivers who are like me—I can attest firsthand to the fact that many women aren’t putting their own needs first as often as they should be. However, the onus shouldn’t always be on the woman to advocate for herself and for quality care like her life depends on it. Marketers need to take some responsibility and be accountable to the fact that we can make a difference in delivering quality care to women.

When designing products, services and communications, marketers must ensure that equity for women remains top of mind. As marketers, we need to ask female consumers, “How can we support you?” rather than assuming we already know. This can be done through traditional research (e.g., focus groups, surveys or one-on-one interviews) or through co-creation sessions with women who help develop and design this support with us. Bottom line, it is important to fully listen to their voices—empathetically—to fully grasp their experiences.

Pairing this qualitative feedback with real-world data is the next step. Use clinical and lifestyle data to paint the full picture of your female consumer segment and better understand their specific needs. Marketers can then tailor and design communications with equity in mind.

When women have fair treatment, everyone benefits. Today, all organizations have a role in addressing the issue of gender bias in healthcare and ensure their equitable well-being—whether it’s creating products and services that put women at the center, hiring and promoting more women in leadership roles, or educating audiences across consumer segments about women’s health disparities and needs.


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