Ann Duncan talks about AHA’s Go Red for Women, managing stress and more

Ann Duncan, executive vice president and head of Savills Occupier Services, knows firsthand the additional stress women typically shoulder as they juggle the demands of work in and outside of the home. Of course, these struggles have been exacerbated with the increased demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you think about the past couple of years, women have felt stress in their jobs more than ever. I’m not saying that men have not had tremendous stress issues, but the caregiver load balance does historically, and traditionally, shift more towards women. Studies show two-thirds of women are a caregiver, in some capacity, whether it’s a spouse, children, parents, you name it. We want to do it all, and we want to do it all well,” Duncan says.

To Duncan, heading up this year’s American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative in the Tampa Bay area, it’s a perfect opportunity to highlight overall health for women. “When we’re under stress, research shows the odds are significantly greater that we’re going to have high blood pressure,” Duncan adds. “We’re going to have weight issues because we’re not going to eat healthily. Go Red has always been about women’s heart health, but this year we’re really trying to raise awareness within the corporate sector because women make up approximately half of our workforce in the United States. It’s more important now, than ever before, because recent reports show unprecedented amounts of women currently opting out of the workforce. Companies need to support the health of their female employees as they strive to retain and grow this important part of their workforce.”

Go Red, AHA’s annual educational program targeting women’s heart issues, launches each year as a community outreach to various local businesses to spread awareness of heart health for women, and culminates, yearly in the month of February with special events or fundraisers. In the Bay area, it’s usually celebrated with a luncheon attended by women throughout
the community with special guest speakers to close out the year’s Go Red donation drive.

As chair this year, Duncan hopes to build on the success of last year’s pandemic-induced innovations.

“I want to take what we learned last year, when making it a virtual event, and do a hybrid event this year. We’re currently looking for corporate sponsors that will come in and make this year’s focus not only on donations but also engagement, really reaching out to their workforce to raise awareness on overall women’s health,” she says.

By focusing on engagement, alongside the Go Red donation drive, Duncan hopes to show how heart health relates to overall health, especially mental well-being, as highlighted in recent years. As Duncan says, “It’s all related. This past year, many of our normal support mechanisms were missing, like exercise or social networks. My work takes me across North America, so I got to see the impacts of COVID really hitting New York, California and many places where everything was shut down. The general ambiguity that COVID brought added such exponential stress to everyone’s lives, but especially to women.”

Now is the time to reexamine the work habits that feed into the overall work culture. Duncan believes, “We’ve spent the last year experimenting with new concepts of work. Now we have to ask ourselves how we can best support healthy lifestyles, bring balance into our work life or adapt to having kids at home more often. It comes down to how we keep our workers healthy. We have to get this right.”

Duncan credits Savills North American CEO Mitch Rudin with first opening her eyes to the recent impacts on women in the workforce. Studies show they are dropping out at unprecedented rates.

“I’m fortunate that Mitch called me on this, sharing recent studies from a McKinsey report. He asked, ‘What are we doing, and how do we help support the women in our company?’” she says.

Long recognized as a leader among women executives in the Tampa Bay area, it’s been more than 20 years since Duncan founded Vertical Integration, a consulting and strategist company that represented the end-users in commercial real estate. She ran the company for nearly 15 years, before it was acquired by Savills in 2015, and feels lucky that most of her staff from Vertical made the transition with her to Savills. Yet, Duncan remembers well the pressures of being in “the sandwich generation,” raising her children while taking care of aging parents and struggling to “do it all.”

“When I was at the peak of the sandwich generation, I was much heavier and didn’t take time to exercise. I was grabbing food on the fly, running from one obligation to another and juggling everything. I come from a family that has heart health issues; I have a brother who passed away, way too young,  from a heart attack.” With these personal connections, Duncan has long been involved in AHA, volunteering in years past with the Heart Ball among her other community work supporting education and veterans. For Duncan, this year is a key moment to emphasize overall health, and well-being, for women workers.

“That’s what Go Red is about: using the research to find solutions that help women get healthier,” Duncan says.

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