Ovia Health's Chief Product Officer Gina Nebesar
Started in 2012, Ovia Health is a clinically based women’s health platform that helps women and families navigate their reproductive health journeys. Using three apps (Ovia Fertility, Ovia Pregnancy, and Ovia Parenting), women can track their periods, their moods, their stages of pregnancy, and other health and life milestone; they can also learn more about reproduction and parenting through articles, data feedback, and personalized guidance.
With reach to over 12 million women and families, Ovia also serves as a connection between companies and women, helping businesses to provide maternity and family benefits women want. “The workplace is not supporting women the way it should be,” says cofounder and Chief Product Officer Gina Nebesar. “Women are leaving the workforce or being forced to make impossible choices between health, family, and career.” Ovia’s goal is to help innovative employers provide women with the support they need and deserve throughout their careers.
Here, Nebesar shares how Ovia is making workplaces—and health—better for women. Want to see how they work for yourself? You can download the Ovia apps here.
Ovia Health has three apps. Tell us about them. How do they help working women?
Our apps help women track and understand their reproductive health, have healthier pregnancies, navigate parenthood, and realize their dream of having a family. We provide daily support through each life stage with content and advice sourced from experts and based on clinical guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Ovia Fertility helps women track their cycles and learn more about their reproductive health. Ovia Pregnancy helps women have happier, healthier pregnancies by guiding them through each day of pregnancy. Ovia Parenting helps parents navigate the early years of parenthood with expert articles and tips based on child age, developmental milestones, and newborn health tracking to help monitor breastfeeding, bottle feeding, diapers, and sleep.
How does Ovia Health work with employers, and how does that impact women?
When a woman tells her OB that she's trying to conceive, she's often handed a one-size-fits-all package that includes an overview of things like alcohol and smoking cessation, weight management, prenatal vitamins, and nutrition. Beyond this, little-to-no support is provided to women who are trying to conceive and don't meet the guidelines for infertility or a specialist. Then, throughout the pregnancy journey, women have minimal guidance on things like selecting a provider (which significantly impacts their chance of vaginal delivery and therefore several other serious health outcomes) or breastfeeding (which significantly impacts their postpartum health and child’s development). They also aren't educated on many other factors closely tied to improved health outcomes, like the benefits of certified nurse midwives, C-section rates and why they’re important, labor and delivery education, breastfeeding troubleshooting, and so much more.
Ovia Health provides maternity and family benefits to employers that connect with women daily and work to close these clear gaps in the healthcare system—the lack of education, support, and resources—through instantaneous, guided support that is empathetic and personalized for each person’s health experience.
We provide women with a team of registered nurses, certified nurse midwives, and health coaches to help them answer the quintessential question, "Is this normal?" and have the resources and info they need to have better conversations with their providers.
What trends, if any, are you seeing in terms of maternity health benefits?
The best employers have realized that in order to retain talent and be a top place to work, as well as address rising healthcare costs, they need to offer truly innovative, predictive solutions. For any health issue, it's not enough to provide benefits after the fact, and especially with the path to parenthood, you need to provide support through the entire journey. This is why employers are starting to provide benefits that support people before they're trying to conceive, before they've told anyone they're pregnant, and throughout pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond.
Our research at Ovia Health has found that of the women who choose to leave their job after having a baby, 64 percent make the decision before their baby is born. This means that traditional maternity programs are missing a huge opportunity to engage employees from the moment they walk in the door, and employers are turning to digital solutions that better engage people from fertility and preconception all the way through return-to-work and being a working parent.
What tools do you use to educate women/parents/companies about maternity leave policies?
We personalize our product for each of our employer clients so that it’s really easy for everyone to use Ovia. We think about this from the employee's perspective—what benefits or information does she need? And when does she need it? We work with employers to identify all of the benefits they offer women and families related to fertility, pregnancy, and parenting—making sure to pull out lesser-known benefits like acupuncture, which you might not necessarily think would apply but that can be so beneficial! We take all of the benefits offered, including parental leave, and package them in Ovia so they're delivered at the right time in someone's journey and in a way that's easy to understand.
We also spend a lot of time advocating for better parental leave policies in general. Our employer partners are thinking about ways that they can better support the families in their organizations, but not everyone is. We were recently at SXSW presenting on the current state of maternity policies in the U.S. and what needs to change. We’re proud to be leading the charge in helping the workforce become more female- and family-friendly.
What are some of the misconceptions women or companies have about maternity leave, pregnancy in the office, or fertility as it relates to work?
Not everyone understands their rights in the workplace—which is understandable because it's often very confusing! I would say the main things we really try to educate women on are their FMLA rights, their rights to pump in the workplace, and the laws around pregnancy discrimination.
For companies, it's a matter of helping employers understand what they can do to actually help women and parents in their workplace. There are so many practical, easy things that can make such a huge difference, whether it's manager trainings around parental leave or putting a minifridge in the mother's room for breast milk.
There's also a misconception that bigger changes like paid parental leave and more benefits for families are expensive, but when you compare them to the cost of losing talent, they're just not. These benefits are not a "nice to have"—they're crucial if you want working parents and diverse perspectives at your organization.
What are a few ways companies can build more family-friendly cultures?
If companies are asking themselves that question (or reading this!), that's honestly an awesome first step. Being empathetic and understanding that your employees have questions means that you understand the value of the parents at your company and you're looking for ways to better support and retain this awesome pool of talent.
We continuously ask women what benefits they want—and need—from their employers. There are a few different tiers of ways to build a more family-friendly culture: Big things like paid leave for both parents is huge, as is flexible scheduling. You'll want to make the process of preparing for parental leave as smooth as possible and make sure all of your employee's questions are answered. How much time off will they receive? What will happen to their work while they're gone? Where do they pump when they come back? We have a checklist of common questions (and likely answers!) here.
There are also smaller things you can do that make a big impact, like setting up a parents group at your office or just being aware of school holidays and not scheduling big meetings when a lot of parents will be out or needing to leave early. You can find more tips, toolkits, and information on our employer blog too.
Walk us through the efforts you make around return-to-work programs. What information do you feel is most crucial for working women to know as they prepare to go back to the office?
Ovia Health's return-to-work programs were co-created with Dr. Danna Greenberg, the Walter H. Carpenter Professor of organizational behavior at Babson College. Dr. Greenberg is an expert in how people manage work-life transitions in today’s demanding work world; how this influences their identity, engagement, and performance at work; and how organizational practices influence individuals’ ability to craft full, meaningful lives. Together, we created a program that prepares and guides women and parents, during pregnancy and postpartum, as they: think about and prepare for leave; talk with their manager; begin life as a working mom or parent; find childcare; balance life as a working parent and more.
It’s really important for women to have this information at their fingertips during such a busy time, and we’re so proud to be able to help employers think about how to better support and guide their employees during this transition too.
Ovia also uses its data for research. Tell us about your efforts there, and why it’s an important component of your company.
We founded Ovia Health because there is an opportunity to help millions of women—and their families—be healthier and happier. We have a clinical research team at Ovia who is continuously looking for ways to help women have more informed and healthier pregnancies, and they are doing such amazing work to transform women’s healthcare. You can read about some of their latest research on gestational diabetes, postpartum depression, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, and more here and here.
What’s next for Ovia Health?
Women's health is broad and complex, and we face obstacles at every stage in our healthcare journey—from understanding our first period to finding the right birth control, to fertility, pregnancy, motherhood, and beyond. We plan to continue to extend the breadth and depth of Ovia Health's solutions for women, helping them even earlier in their lives and further beyond motherhood. We'll also provide deeper support with their reproductive, physical, and mental health. Mental health especially is a huge focus for us right now—we have clinically validated mental health screening tools (the PHQ-9 and EPDS) in all three of our apps, and we've screened and provided mental health resources for more than 500,000 women so far. We're so excited to continue to help women and families improve their health and realize their dreams of becoming parents.