Approximately 80 percent of healthcare decisions are made by women, who commonly guide care not just for themselves, but also for their children and families. Likewise, the majority of healthcare jobs — including doctors, nurses and technicians — are held by women. Given this, it’s worth a double-take that the system is run almost entirely by men. Only about a fifth of healthcare executives are women.
I’m part of a small percentage of women who run digital health startups. My company, Maven, bridges gaps in women’s and family healthcare with Maven’s family benefits platforms, which helps advance women in the workforce and empower parents to be supported no matter which path to parenthood they choose. Our programs around fertility, adoption, pregnancy, and early pediatrics offer unlimited on-demand access to our network of women’s and family health providers in over 20 specialties, and dedicated care coordinators who personally advocate for employees throughout their experience. Over the last few years, I’ve seen firsthand how gender imbalance in healthcare boardrooms negatively affects women’s lives, both at work and at home — and also what we can do to change things.
When I started Maven in 2014, the inspiration was all around me: I was working in venture capital in London covering the emerging digital health sector. It was around the same time that my friends started having kids and I noticed the gaps in care that exist at every life stage, but appear to get bigger when women try to balance their careers with starting a family.
Why, for example, don’t typical insurers cover treatment for the incredibly common postpartum symptoms — such as postpartum depression or pelvic floor dysfunction — that often interfere with women’s ability to work? Why are so many women forced to choose between breastfeeding (and its significant health benefits) and remaining in the workforce? Why are fertility treatments so difficult to navigate (if a woman or man’s employer even offers fertility benefits, in the first place)? Why are so many LGBTQI couples left out of the family planning process, and why aren’t dads a more central part of the equation, to help promote gender equality at both work and at home?
One woman I know was thrilled to finally become a mother after undergoing almost two years of IVF treatments — but she suffered from postpartum depression. Because her health benefits did not include mental health, she was never screened, let alone treated for it — and as a result, her postpartum depression dragged on for over a year after she gave birth. She also experienced separation anxiety, along with physical symptoms like headaches and nausea. However, because she did not feel comfortable discussing these symptoms with her employer, she left her job long before they finally improved.
Unfortunately, stories like this are the norm. Although 75 percent of American women say they are excited to go back to work after giving birth, 43 percent of them end up leaving their careers. It’s painfully clear that neither the healthcare industry nor the typical workplace were designed by a woman, or with women’s needs in mind.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, I knew I could do better. So I quit my job in early 2014, rallied a small but mighty team who shared my urgency for changing the status quo, and started building a product and a network of providers from scratch. We launched Maven to the consumer market about a year later, offering on-demand video appointments and quick messages with our network. This network and new care delivery model eventually became the foundation for our flagship product, Maven’s Family Benefits platform.
I’m proud of many things that my team and I built in the short time since launching Maven. Two of them stand out. First, it was a no-brainer to build a network with a wide range of specializations to cater to the specific needs of our users. A “typical” new mom might work with an OB-GYN, pediatrician, lactation consultant, women’s mental health provider, and women’s health physical therapist, all from our network, all in the same week. An LGBTQI couple going through adoption might get referrals from our care coordinators on the best and most inclusive agency to work with, and then be supported by our adoption coaches and pediatricians. A new dad might be able to speak to a relationship coach to smooth the process of early parenting. All of our practitioners work together digitally and provide referrals to one another, making it easy for users to find the care that they need.
Second, within Maven’s prenatal track, we include both postpartum care and support for new parents’ transition back to work. When we started working with our first clients in 2015, we were the only maternity benefits company including postpartum and return-to-work support as fundamental to the experience of having a child. Traditional insurers offered telephonic nurse lines to women going through this experience that stopped when the child was born. Further, a woman on a traditional insurance plan doesn’t go to the doctor until six weeks after giving birth — ignoring the fact that those first six weeks are often a particularly emotionally and physically vulnerable time. Maven users have unlimited access to our network of specialists who can provide them with information and care whenever and wherever they need it. The result is that new parents feel supported and cared for throughout every step of their journey, making it easier for them to remain at their jobs while taking care of their own health and that of their family.
As a country, we have a long way to go to improve access to quality healthcare, but I’m more optimistic than ever that we’ll get there. The future of gender equality in the workplace is inextricably linked to the future of healthcare. And the future of healthcare is moving in a direction that favors treating a person holistically and really listening to the patient. Women and families, as the core consumers and purveyors of healthcare, must be central to this process. By listening to the many unmet healthcare needs of Maven’s patients, and by responding through product innovation, we can bring a sorely-needed focus to women’s and family health.
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