Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Can improving women's health lead us on a path to economic growth?

Woman walking on a pathway as sunsets: Improving women's health can lead to more women in leadership.

Improving women's health can lead to more women in leadership. Image: Unsplash/Emma Simpson

Kiriko Honda
Interim Chief Representative Officer, Japan, World Economic Forum
Naoko Tochibayashi
Communications Lead, Japan, World Economic Forum
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  • Women's health issues can lead to economic losses of around $23 billion annually in Japan.
  • Menopause can directly influence a resignation decision hindering the number of women accessing leadership positions.
  • Closing this 'gender health gap' would enable more women to join the workforce, potentially boosting the global economy by $1 trillion.

Health plays a crucial role in economic growth, influencing productivity, reducing healthcare costs and ensuring a stable workforce. From this perspective, discussions and initiatives are underway to improve women’s health.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Japan has estimated that the economic losses to society due to women-specific health issues, including menopausal symptoms and gynaecological cancers, amount to approximately JPY 3.4 trillion or $23 billion annually.

Measures such as workplace empathy and efforts to understand women’s health impact to care utilizing cutting-edge technology are cited as specific ways to address these issues, emphasizing their importance in preventing female employees from leaving their jobs.

Professor Shintaro Yamaguchi of the University of Tokyo Graduate School notes, “Women’s health issues have been underestimated. Resolving them is essential for increasing the proportion of women in leadership positions and preventing resignations.”

Addressing physical discomfort as a societal issue rather than just an individual problem is crucial for improving productivity and ultimately, economic growth. To illustrate, the perimenopausal period, affecting those in their 40s and 50s who are in leadership positions, was highlighted in a 2021 survey conducted by Japan Broadcasting Corporation NHK with several specialized institutions.

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Technological solutions

The survey revealed that approximately 460,000 people had experienced “menopausal resignation.” Based on this data, the economic losses due to resignations, including reduced income, amounted to approximately JPY 420 billion or $2.8 billion.

The average age of menopause for Japanese women is around 50, and the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology defines the 10 years encompassing the five years before and after menopause as the “perimenopausal period.”

A survey targeting working women in their 40s and 50s during this period found that 73% experienced insomnia – one of the menopausal symptoms – impacting productivity.

Sleep, described by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, Co-Director of the University of Rochester’s Centre for Translational Neuromedicine, is essential for the “brain’s cleaning,” removing harmful proteins that accumulate between brain cells during the day.

As a strategy for improving women’s health, the concept of “Femtech” has gradually gained traction in Japan since around 2016. Femtech refers to products and services that address women-specific health issues using technological solutions.

The market, encompassing Femtech and “Femcare” or women’s health care products, is estimated to have expanded by 107.8% to JPY 695.1 billion or around $4.6 billion, compared with the previous year, indicating growth from 2021.

However, challenges persist, as a 2023 survey showed that Femtech’s awareness stood at 38.1%, with understanding limited to it being “for women,” lacking the understanding of what they are specifically referred to.

A research company in the United States projected a global market of JPY 820 billion, approximately $5.5 billion in 2019, increasing to JPY 5.5 trillion or $37 billion by 2025, underscoring the significant potential for the future growth of Femtech and Femcare, making awareness campaigns crucial.

Improving women’s health is not just about individual health management; it is also crucial in enhancing overall organizational performance and promoting gender diversity.

Kiriko Honda, Interim Chief Representative, Japan, World Economic Forum | Naoko Tochibayashi, Communications Lead, World Economic Forum

Workplace understanding

The contributions of companies towards supporting women’s health are becoming more evident. Bridgestone, a company specializing in tyres and chemical products, announced the implementation of a company-wide programme that leverages technology to address women’s specific health issues.

The initiative aims not only at women but all employees, introducing awareness campaigns for women’s health issues to ensure that every employee gains a correct understanding and knowledge. The company is committed to promoting the acquisition of accurate knowledge and enhancing the work environment where each employee thrives in the workplace.

Rohto Pharmaceutical has been addressing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating, palpitations, headaches and joint pain. Since 2020, the company has introduced support systems targeting individuals in their 40s and 50s, where health issues become more pronounced.

Recognizing the importance of broadening understanding in the workplace, Marui Group has established “Wellness Leaders” to tackle gender-specific health issues. These leaders attend learning sessions four times a year, where they acquire knowledge about health issues, including menopausal symptoms and share information within the workplace.

Closing the women's health gap

Improving women’s health is not just about individual health management; it is also crucial in enhancing overall organizational performance and promoting gender diversity. Moreover, technological advancements, policy improvements, and the creation of supportive environments are indispensable.

As the third phase of the “21st Century National Health Promotion Movement” initiated by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2000 is set to commence in the fiscal year 2024, the ministry has explicitly mentioned “women’s health.”

In the era of a 100-year life and a diversified society, the importance of “health promotion that leaves no one behind” and the promotion of “more effective initiatives” are highlighted, emphasizing the significance of women’s health improvement.

A report by the World Economic Forum titled “Closing the Women’s Health Gap: A $1 Trillion Opportunity to Improve Lives and Economies” suggests that reducing the gender health gap could mean circa 3.9 billion women leading healthier and more fulfilling lives, resulting in an expected annual improvement of $1 trillion in economic productivity.

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on work styles for men and women revealed that as of the fiscal year 2022, women accounted for only 12.7% of management positions at department heads or above.

To increase this proportion, strengthening corporate initiatives and fostering an understanding of women’s health should create an environment conducive to women’s advancement into leadership roles.

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Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionHealth and Healthcare SystemsEconomic Growth
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