Health and Healthcare Systems

To advance women's position in the world, we need to think about their health and wealth

In 2021, the women’s health market was sized at $9 billion.

In 2021, the women’s health market was sized at $9 billion. Image: Unsplash/Kike Vega

Sharon Marcil
Regional Chair, North America, Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
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Gender Inequality

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Targeting women’s health and wealth could be key to better gender parity.
  • Women largely feel ignored by companies, relying on a fragmented marketplace for apt services, despite becoming wealthier and making most healthcare decisions for their households.
  • Business leaders seeking to encourage more women into the workforce should tailor offerings with their needs in mind while thinking more holistically about strategy and representation.

Calls for global gender parity are not new for business and government actors. Yet, reported progress on the UN twin indices on Global Gender Parity and Women’s Empowerment leaves much to be desired and little room for optimism.

Despite the disconnect between commitment and tangible action on inclusivity, there is still a path to success – prioritizing women’s health and wealth.

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The state of women’s health

On the heels of the 2008 financial crisis, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) surveyed 12,000 women across North America to understand their perceived consumer gaps and how services could better meet their needs. The crisis offered an opportunity for a reckoning in how products were developed and marketed towards the consumer.

The survey found that despite controlling and spending trillions within the United States alone, women felt ignored by companies, mainly when it came to poorly designed products and outdated, stereotypical marketing used to sell said products. Healthcare ranked among the top industries criticized by survey respondents for their inability to deliver in this category, especially among middle-aged women.

Since those results were released, the United States has reached another inflexion point in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting an opportunity to measure progress in delivering products designed by and for women.

Exponentially growing and under-researched

Today’s consumer is active, informed and empowered, with women making approximately 80% of major healthcare decisions for their households. Compounded with the withdrawal of government engagement around the world in women’s health offerings, consumers have had to rely on a highly fragmented system of healthcare services, engaging with more than 1,300 startups targeting one of the 17 stages of a woman’s lifecycle, according to BCG analysis. Although their ecosystem has grown, healthcare research and development funding remains low, with only 4% dedicated to studying conditions disproportionally impacting women.

In 2021, the women’s health market was sized at $9 billion, with BCG research forecasting that number to grow by 222% in just eight years to $29 billion.

The path to success in women’s health requires solving for both the fragmentation and availability of services. This growing ecosystem has not gone unnoticed, as investment in women’s health companies in the United States surged to an all-time high of $3.3 billion in 2022.

While the fiscal bonus gives the women’s health market room to ideate, iterate and improve, the responsibility is with business leaders to consider four main areas to avoid the shortfalls of rolling out an offering that will not land with the target audience.

  • Product – what is the unique product that meets women’s needs? Herein lies the most important piece – prospective business owners must listen to them, understand their needs and build something that fits them exactly before considering expansion options.
  • Go-to-market and business – What is the marketing strategy and business model for the women’s market?
  • Service and operations – are women’s needs considered across all company touchpoints, including customer service?
  • Organization – are women represented at all levels of an organization creating products for them? Only 5.6% of Fortune Global 500 companies are run by women CEOs.

Solving gaps in women’s health and wealth requires input from executives, government officials and the average consumer.

Sharon Marcil, Regional Chair North America, Boston Consulting Group

The untapped economic opportunity of women’s wealth

While healthcare may have been ranked as one of the top industries unable to cater to the female consumer successfully, the financial services industry demonstrated even greater deficiencies in this area.

With women poised to control around $10 trillion of wealth in the United States, positioning them to be successful and contribute to the broader global economy requires closing this gap once and for all. Growing women’s wealth starts with the investment decisions they feel confident making. At the global level today, only 28% of women feel comfortable making such decisions. In households run by members of the baby boomer generation, women made only 40% of financial decisions. However, the opportunity to serve this market is growing, with the percentage of women making financial decisions in millennial households rising to 70%.

Yet, BCG observed it’s not just household economics where women are at a disadvantage to their male counterparts. Women-founded companies received only 2.1% of invested capital for venture-based startups in 2023. By comparison, First Women’s Bank, an institution dedicated to bridging the gap in access to capital for women-started businesses, found that women receive just 16% of all conventional business loans. So, not only are women disadvantaged in the management of wealth but the creation of it as well.

Rectifying such discrepancies worldwide to provide women and men with the same access to capital would give the global economy a $2.5 trillion injection.

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The path forward

Solving gaps in women’s health and wealth requires input from executives, government officials and the average consumer – demanding more action from congressional representatives and thinking about how individual businesses support and incentivize this journey.

Revisiting the moment of reckoning brought on in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations now have an opportunity to assess the services, benefits and products provided across their value chain – from investors and employees to consumers. Are these groups supported by systems that help them advance in their objectives?

Compounded with the existing investments in women’s health and wealth, the prioritization of investing in talent identified in BCG’s survey of more than 759 C-suite executives worldwide is also a cause for optimism.

C-suite leaders are acutely aware that ensuring their company is resilient to future economic downturns means smartly investing in the technology and talent to fuel their long-term growth. These investments in the types of benefits, products and services that help women grow their wealth while caring for their physical health and their household is how we can achieve gender parity.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsEquity, Diversity and InclusionForum Institutional
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