Why investing in female health should be everyone’s business
My focus on women’s health comes from a place of passion, and a desire to make the world more inclusive. Nonetheless, I recognise the commercial opportunity in better serving women. I believe that we should all be investing in female health. We know that women do most of the household spending, hold 20 per cent of the world’s wealth and are more likely to use digital tools for healthcare than men. According to the statistics, there’s money to be made in tech and female health. But why do these figures represent opportunity rather than existing success?
I believe it is in part because the solutions available aren’t fully meeting the needs of today’s woman. Historically, companies have been speaking to age-old stereotypes of womanhood; i.e. all women want to be mothers; once you reach 50, you’re not interested in sex or feeling good; periods are not to be seen nor heard.
Which is where the femtech sector comes in.
Innovators have recognised the underserved women’s health industry, and the financial opportunity. Femtech companies have bought in $1 billion in funding since 2014 and the sector has a predicted value of $50 billion by 2025. I touch on the many of the reasons why this sector exists in an earlier blog.
But, female-focused entrepreneurs received only two per cent of all funding in 2018. So, although the appetite and the opportunity are there, where’s the mainstream investment? Well, consider this; ten per cent of venture capitalists (VCs) are women, with only seven per cent being decision-makers. There are not enough women having a say. And, those men in charge are too scared to talk about vaginas, let alone, invest in them. Jesse Draper’s blog does a brilliant job of capturing the crisis here.
Which is why I say investing in women’s health is everyone’s business. To invoke real change, we need to make sure everyone is talking openly and honestly about it. In turn, this will shift the mindset of those who have the real influence on change, i.e. the budget holders.
But how do we get this transformation started?
We should all talk openly about fertility, periods, or the menopause, Not only in our own homes but in the workplace too. By creating a conversational culture, women will spend less time hiding their discomfort and more time seeking treatment or resting as needed. In the workplace, this translates to increased productivity and more freedom to succeed. A more efficient work environment benefits everyone.
And, we all need to get comfortable with the inner workings of our bodies, which is why I advocate investing time in sex education and knowing how the reproductive system works. Use tech to know what happens day-to-day. Don’t begin to use it once you want to get pregnant or if you find your periods stopping. And partners, listen when the women around you talk about this stuff. Trust me, it will benefit you too to be informed.
And, in doing so, this will translate into another underserved area: medical research and funding. The more people talk about women’s health conditions, the more likely pharmaceuticals will recognise its value. Many hope that Bayer’s recent acquisition of Kandy Therapeutics marks the beginning of significant investment in this space. For now, femtech is supplying relief for long-neglected diseases and conditions affecting women.
But I also passionately believe big business and ‘the mainstream’ has a crucial part to play.
It took until 2020 for a leading menstrual brand to air an advert discussing miscarriage, endometriosis and the trauma of a period. But it does show that change is happening. I applaud Nike for its maternity and post-partum range. The campaign used strong, empowered pregnant women – an image often lacking when talking motherhood. It’s refreshing to see a brand genuinely listen to the changing needs of its customers. But imagine if other powerhouses used their influence to speak to their female audiences in an authentic way. What about ‘beige boxes’ from retailers for first trimester sufferers or skincare products specifically designed for the needs of post-menopausal women (and not ‘anti-ageing’)?
And the truth is, companies that don’t transform will find an innovator nipping at their heels doing it better. Even those already speaking to women need to pay attention. Take Elvie. Breast pumps now look less like industrial milking tools. So much so, Elvie users show off their breast pumps on social media. And its brand feels a world away from the sterile and predominately white image portrayed by the market leaders. The company has disrupted the baby sector. But, it has also helped create an inclusive societal shift in our approach to breastfeeding (albeit, at a high price tag).
So, if you aren’t thinking about change, you should be. Put money into female-led ideas or give a voice to the causes championed by the women around you. Because investing in female health is everyone’s business, and you won’t want to get left behind.