Mothers are not getting the support they need. We can see it in the numbers: the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal deaths among developed nations,1 and studies show that four out of five of these deaths are preventable.2 Our maternal outcomes have fallen behind our peers, even though we spend more on healthcare than any other high-income nation.3
In the workplace, we can see how having children and parenting without enough support impacts women. During the pandemic, when mothers bore the heaviest burdens from lack of childcare and family-friendly work policies, 3.5 million women left the workforce.4 And women are still leaving at record rates — the most recent annual study from McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that women leaders are leaving their jobs at the highest rate ever recorded.5
If we want to make a difference — for maternal health outcomes and retention — the first step is to listen to women. What do women really need to care for their health and balance parenting and work? We asked 1,500 Ovia members in our annual Future of Family Friendly Benefits survey, and they were loud and clear about the benefits that matter most for their health and wellbeing.
Here’s what we learned.
Most women need more information about the benefits they already have, and health education is critical right now
Before we dug into the specific benefits women need, we asked our survey respondents if the benefits they already have are easy to understand — and a shocking 77 percent said no. This means that many people may not even realize they have programs like nurse care managers (NCM) for support.
In addition, we learned that 68 percent of our respondents were first-time parents — this is a significant increase since the height of the pandemic when many people were holding off on building families. This large cohort of new parents is likely to need fertility, pregnancy, and parenting education in addition to NCM support.
Parental leave is one of women’s top priorities, and many companies fall short
When we asked women which benefits matter most, the top two answers were about parental leave. Respondents wanted parental leave that’s long enough and paid.
We discovered that most — but not all — of the people we surveyed had parental leave benefits:
- 84 percent of respondents were eligible for leave, which is good, but still leaves room for improvement.
- Of those who had leave, about 50 percent had at least three months.
But we found notable variations in paid-leave policies:
- 43.5 percent had their leave funded at 100 percent of their salary.
- 37 percent had leave funded somewhere between 50-75 percent of their salary.
- 21 percent had to take unpaid leave.
Parents want more support when they return to work
At the other end of leave is return-to-work (RTW), another critical time for new parents. To manage this transition, new parents need a solid plan, flexibility, and support for their basic needs, including breastfeeding. Among our respondents:
- Only 5 percent have a mother’s room at work that they can reserve for pumping.
- Fewer than 15 percent said their employer encourages them to block time on their calendar for pumping.
Based on these responses, there’s a huge opportunity to improve lactation support, which is especially important given the significant health benefits for babies and mothers. Benefits such as breastfeeding classes, access to certified lactation specialists, and education about the benefits of breastfeeding can ease the transition back to work and improve retention.
Mental health is another critical issue for RTW. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), which include mood disorders during pregnancy and the year following birth, affect at least one in seven women. But PMADs are often undiagnosed and untreated.6 Among our respondents, nearly 47 percent wished their benefits included better perinatal mental health support.
Women need benefits for family-building
Nearly 40 percent of respondents told us that they wanted fertility tools as part of their maternity care programs. To truly serve a diverse organization, these programs need to include options for all kinds of families, including LGBTQIA+ individuals, and those looking to adopt and pursue surrogacy.
While many respondents asked for these benefits, it’s possible that some already have them and don’t even know it — when we asked members about their existing fertility support, 26 percent weren’t sure. This points to an opportunity for employers to communicate more clearly about the benefits they offer.
Women are asking for more health support in general
Maternity care isn’t the only area where benefits fall short. Twenty-six percent of respondents told us that their current benefits don’t do enough to support women’s health overall.
For example, nearly 70 percent told us that they don’t know enough about menopause, and nearly half were eager to learn more about it. For many respondents, menopause support would be a timely intervention — more than 10 percent were already experiencing perimenopause symptoms.
When we asked women about other benefits they’d like to see, we found that:
- 25 percent wanted coverage for contraceptives/birth control.
- 23 percent wanted menstrual leave.
- 21 percent wanted access to free menstrual products at the office.
- 20 percent wanted travel funds to receive out-of-state reproductive healthcare.
Other top priorities included access to doulas, coverage for in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI), and egg freezing, and access to personalized digital health tools so they can track their health and message directly with health coaches.
We’re overdue for a culture shift at work
Beyond specific benefits, women told us that simply being a woman and mother at work can be challenging:
- 26 percent of our respondents felt that being pregnant or a parent impacted their ability to receive eligible promotions.
- Nearly 30 percent reported experiencing discrimination or microaggressions because they were women.
- 25 percent said they didn’t think their employer was supportive of women in general.
All of these survey responses point in the same direction: we need a culture shift in the ways we support women at work. This shift needs to include comprehensive health benefits with women’s unique needs in mind, better infrastructure for RTW, and training to help managers understand and support working parents.
Looking for a partner to help improve maternal outcomes, lower costs, and provide the support your employees need? Ovia can help. We offer 1:1 coaching with certified experts in lactation, parenting, menopause, and women’s health and wellbeing; physician-developed clinical programs; personalized health and wellness education; manager training; and benefits navigators. Find out more at www.oviahealth.com.
1. The Commonwealth Fund: https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2020/nov/maternal-mortality-maternity-care-us-compared-10-countries
2. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/erase-mm/data-mmrc.html
3. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF): https://www.kff.org/slideshow/health-spending-in-the-u-s-as-compared-to-other-countries-slideshow/
4. The Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-business-lifestyle-health-careers-075d3b0ab89baffc5e2b9a80e11dcf34
5. LeanIn.org: https://leanin.org/women-in-the-workplace/2022
6. American Journal of Public Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7204436/