How Social Determinants of Health are impacting working parents

Mother balances working from home and caring for her toddler

In early November, Ovia Health and I joined forces to deliver a webinar titled “Why Women Are Leaving The Workforce: From Mental Health To Social Determinants Of Health.” Together we provided the audience with an understanding of what moms are going through right now, what exactly is a social determinant of health, and how employers can take action to slow down the unfortunate secession occurring in America right now.

During the webinar, I discussed the social determinants of health most impacting employers’ working parent workforce. According to the Center for Disease Control, social determinants of health are conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes. Ovia Health has found social determinants of health determine 50% of a persons’ health outcomes.

We took a deeper dive into how work conditions impact social determinants of health and found three drivers:

  • disconnection and lack of ambient belonging,
  • racial and financial inequalities (e.g. the housework and wage gap), and 
  • health issues on the rise (e.g. maternal mental health and physical challenges).

Disconnection and Lack of Ambient Belonging

Ambient belonging is feeling comfortable in a space — like you are accepted, valued, and included there. Even prior to COVID-19, many women in the workplace didn’t have a sense of ambient belonging, especially mothers. These women also have a disproportionate ability to connect at work. For the women who’ve managed to connect and thrive in the workplace, being forced into quarantine and a stay at home mom role is challenging as well. According to Motherly’s State of Motherhood survey, 41% of full-time working mothers say that they are most strongly defined by other non-motherhood aspects of their life and self.

Racial and Financial Inequalities Fuel Social Determinants of Health and poor outcomes

Black women tend to be caregivers for not only their children but more than likely elderly family members.  According to LeanIn.Org, Black women spend nearly three times more hours per week caring for elderly or sick relatives during the pandemic, compared to just the 12 hours white women spend. Also, Black women spend half a day more (12 hours) on child care per week than white women. Ovia Health is reporting disproportionate effects on Black women as well.  61% of black women themselves are receiving less frequent, lower quality care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 44% of Black women report not receiving any communication about COVID from their provider compared to 38% of White women.

Financially, women are considering leaving the workforce because it ultimately costs them more to remain in it. We cannot forget about the housework and wage gap, issues for women long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. According to USA Today, last year women earned 80 cents for every man working. But working moms earn even less at 69 cents. As it affects their hiring and promotion, motherhood costs women $16,000 per year in lost wages.

Childcare is a tremendous financial stress, with families going into debt trying to scramble together solutions. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the cost of center-based daycare in the United States can run up to $18,773 a year ($361 a week). On average, child care costs can take up to 40 percent of a dual-income household in America. Without question, childcare is often the second largest monthly expense for families after their mortgage or rent payment.

Social Determinants of Health Issues on the rise

It’s no secret women are taking on more of the work at home in addition to the professional jobs, and it’s taking a toll on their physical health. According to NordVPN the average employee is logging three more hours of work a day, and long work hours and shift work, combined with stressful or physically demanding work, can lead to poor sleep and extreme fatigue. The World Health Organization estimates that about half of the population is experiencing “pandemic fatigue”, but fatigue for mothers is also increasing the risk for injury and deteriorating health, including infections, illnesses, and mental health disorders. During the webinar we also discussed the breakdown in maternal and infant health and family wellbeing.

As a working mom, I’d like to more forward to what can be done to improve work conditions for women. Ovia Health and I uncovered the three things working moms need most from their employers: empathy, decisions, and care from their employers. We also discussed the steps employers need to take now that drive immediate impact and long-term transformational change, and an effective strategy to support and retain working parents.

I encourage you to listen to the webinar and assess your organization against our recommendations. Women are gauging right now whether their managers and their employers are treating them with respect and care. They’re also making decisions now about whether they want to stay with that organization. They’re turning to their leaders and their organizations for stability in our uncertain world of divisiveness and environmental unrest. 

Some leaders will emerge more successfully than others, if they’ve found a solution to keep their female talent within the organization.