Expert Panel Examines Gap in Health and Wellness for Women


Session at NACDS Total Store Expo discusses how to address shortcomings in women’s health areas in the health and wellness industry.

During a session at the NACDS Total Store Expo in San Diego, California, a group of panelists from WE discussed the importance of closing gaps in the health and wellness industry for women in the areas of funding and research, urging the audience to advance women’s topics, and breaking the taboo surrounding the discussion of life transitions.

Image Credit: Tyler Olson -

Image Credit: Tyler Olson -

Founded nearly 6 years ago, WE is a community made of women executive leaders who represent retailers, suppliers, and business partners who are engaging in the encouragement of women in the health and wellness industry.

“Our industry saw an opportunity in our space to bring women together to connect and convene—not only for our current generation, but for future generations. As females we really thrive and flourish when we connect, and we have bonds. I've experienced it personally, not only in my personal life, but as well as my professional life,” said Sue Smith, partner and co-team lead from The Emerson Group.

Smith led the panel in discussing the biggest challenges currently facing female customers who manage their own self-care. Summer Williams Kerley, vice president, Clinical and Market Access Solutions from Rite Aid Corporation, addressed the earlier stages of her career as a pharmacist 23 years ago by describing the lack of information surrounding self-care and access to it. Comparing it to the present, Kerley said the information available now is endless.

“Where we are at currently is making sure that our female shoppers and customers have the right information. The problem with that is if you look at statistics, it says that about 4% of research and development is on women's health—only 4%. There is no way that all the information at our fingertips is reliable. That is really where I'm working on programs to create a focus on making sure the work of pharmacists, as well as our customers, have the right information to make choices out there —self-care,” Kerley said.

The panelists then discussed ways that vendors can partner with organizations to lean into female empowerment to manage their health by looking at the educational piece of it. Leigha Dunbar, senior DMM and senior director from Walgreens Co., noted that 80%-90% of women are the ones shopping in stores and buying products for their family as it relates to their health care. However, two-thirds of those women are unaware what they tend to do to solve for themselves.

“From a supplier standpoint, it's important that we continue to talk about the education and the educational things that consumers need to help them through the journey. We must make it something that's digestible. It can't be something that's too over the top pharmaceutical or a medical explanation, but something that they can digest very quickly and understand,” Dunbar said.

Moving to discuss the topic of psychological safety within an organization, the panelists touched on the right to feel empowered to have taboo discussions with company leadership starting with menopause, menstruation, and parental leave.

Lauren Wittenberg, director, Global eCommerce and Omnichannel from i-Health Inc, a Division of DSM, noted that unless an individual is working in the women’s health product industry, these topics are not regularly talked about with employees.

“If we're not talking about it and we are in the health and wellness space —we are not talking about it at a national level. It truly is a taboo topic and I just hope that you can have courageous conversations, and not that you must be right with what you propose, but that you're just having the conversation and bringing it to life,” Wittenberg said

Dunbar agreed with the importance of having open dialogue with peers, because women are often facing similar challenges in the workplace, but may not want to communicate these issues.

“We must get comfortable having those conversations. I will say that there are more women that are starting to do that, but it's also our responsibility—all of us in this room—to make sure that the information that's out there for people to pull from is the right information. We have a responsibility of making sure that the information is correct, it's educational, and it's really going to help the consumer—and even us sitting in this room—really solve our needs,” Dunbar said.


Closing the Gap in Health and Wellness for Women. Presented at: NACDS TSE Conference 2023. San Diego, California. August 12, 2023.

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