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Strategy

“Femtech” Is Your New Favorite Retention Tool


Five entrepreneurs explore the intersection of femtech and corporate benefits.

©boggy22/iStock/Getty Images Plus

New technologies aimed at women could become a key strategy in corporate benefits programs as employers adopt female technologies, or “femtech”, as a way to gain an edge in the increasingly competitive race for talent. 

Femtech describes software, diagnostics, products and services that leverage technology to improve women’s health. It includes everything from ovulation tracking apps to period-proof underwear to vitamins.

“When it comes to a woman's fertility, managing our menstruation, or getting support with our nursing or pumping schedule, we are left to find our own solutions if we want to participate in the working world,” says Antonia Saint Dunbar, CEO & Co-Founder of women’s shoe company Antonia Saint NY and Co-Founder of period underwear THINX Inc. “Most companies don't pay these any attention, yet we make up half of the workforce, and our productivity is affected.”

In December of 2019, women held more jobs than men for the first time in nearly a decade, a development that likely reflects the future of the American workforce, according to the Wall Street Journal. And as gender diversity continues to be a priority for organizations, business leaders are increasingly focused on retaining their female talent. 

Yet women’s unique health concerns are rarely discussed or taken into consideration, especially in an office setting. One such health concern, menstruation, affects millions of working women but continues to be a taboo topic at work, despite the fact that nearly a quarter of women (23%) have been forced to have time off work due to their periods and nearly one in ten (8%) have had two or more days off in the last six months alone.

Saint Dunbar, who spoke at the recent Women of Leadership Summit in New York City, is at the epicenter of the femtech industry that is hoping to see financial and human resource (HR) executives embrace these digital tools to better serve their female employees.

Increasingly, wellness programs are being used by employers to attract and retain talent. A 2010 study found that 45% of employees working at small to medium-size companies would stay at their jobs longer because of their employers’ wellness programs. These programs are a logical place for femtech. “Given how much time we all spend at work, a huge opportunity is for workplace wellness programs to incorporate femtech solutions,” says Lulu Ge, CEO and founder of menstrual wellness start-up Elix Health and fellow panelist. 

Mylene Yao, CEO and co-founder of AI platform for IVF, Univfy, points out that female employees are grateful when these types of benefits are provided and that “it really increases their loyalty and their relationship with the company; that they're willing to go that extra mile for the company. In terms of talent retention, it is definitely great to have benefits supporting women's health and making it easier for men and women to take care of their families.”

“Companies that want to attract the best talent are offering progressive fertility benefits like egg freezing coverage or IVF support, as well as post-partum and parenting support,” said femtech entrepreneur and writer Estrella Jaramillo Rios. “A lot of solutions we’re seeing in the market now address the needs of the working woman. How can a company try to reduce friction when a woman wants to continue breastfeeding after she returns to work, right? It’s not just about having a lactation room, it’s how to support her throughout the entire journey.”

Lead Venture Investor at Portfolia FemTech Fund Christina Jenkins sees some companies embracing subsidies for devices or wearables, or access to apps that help their employees enjoy better health. But there’s still a long way to go. “We’d love to also see subsidies for additional items that allow women to enjoy better health, and to be their best selves at work. Ideas include breast pumps, diet or wellness coaching, equipment needed for post-surgical rehab, mental health and mindfulness devices and apps.”

Jenkins also suggests companies allow their employees to invest in funds focused on women’s health (e.g. femtech, active aging and longevity) and then matching those investments, much as is done with a 401K or IRA.  By having a group investment pool, employees could have visibility into emerging technologies and innovations and enjoy the potential of good investment returns.

Saint Dunbar says companies can provide a foundation for the change that we need, by adopting thoughtful insurance policies that support fertility, and health programs or benefits that may include a day or two a month, as needed, as “flex time” to work from home.

“For some women, it's very hard to even get out of bed during their monthly cycle, and we need to acknowledge that. Or what about the after-effects of going thru a round of IVF? Companies can also provide rooms with privacy, and electrical outlets for nursing Mamas who need to pump while at work, and the fact that this isn't yet widely common practice is so very troubling to me.”

Univfy’s Yao shares some practical ways to bring HR departments and femtech providers closer to develop impactful programs for employees. 

One suggestion is for HR departments to survey all employees (male and female) to learn about women's health needs or family care needs that are much needed but currently not offered (or not offered in a way that is easy to use). “It’s important to get male employees' feedback as well because their benefits program covers female partners and the health and happiness of their partners impact the overall satisfaction of the benefits program perceived by male employees.”

The next step HR departments can take is to ask their benefits agents to connect with companies offering services meeting those needs and ask/help those femtech companies to submit proposals. Yao points out that many HR departments rely on benefits agents to bring new offerings/health benefits to HR for review.

Finally, since femtech and HR departments are new to one another, it would be very helpful for HR departments (or their benefits agents) to tell femtech companies specific metrics (e.g. cost savings, employee satisfaction, improved productivity/focus at work, etc.) that would make it appealing to bring certain femtech services to their employees.

“It’s kind of like a mission,” says Jaramillo Rios, “The more you dig in, the more you realize how many injustices are happening and how we’ve normalized the fact that we have a healthcare system that systemically overlooks the needs of women at different stages of life.”