Cancer and the Workplace: Stopping the Stigma

Marva Bailer, MS lectures on tools for going to work after a cancer diagnosis and how to build a more inclusive workplace.

At a glance:


Your coworker has been diagnosed with cancer. What will you do?

Your initial reaction might be to offer a hug, or to send frozen lasagna home with them. You might offer a ride to chemo, or let them know you’ll pray for them. But how do you advocate for them at work?

As a practitioner, you ask the questions (the required survey) can you drive yourself, who do you have to take care of, are you financially ok, do you need a note to be excused from work? But what if your patient truly wants to work.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. And with the average age of the Chief Executive Officer being 51, over 50% of women who are diagnosed will receive the news during the peak time in their careers, when they’re most likely to rise to leadership.

With the diagnosis coming during this critical period in a woman’s career, organizations are likely to experience an employee having cancer at some point. Workplaces will have standard leave procedures and accommodations for these employees, but often, a workplace culture doesn’t necessarily have the tools to handle the “people” side of this issue. Leaders are often unprepared for the daily realities of these women at work.

When The Today Show news anchor Jill Martin announced her diagnosis on the air, she said “I could either stay home and cry under the covers or I could come to work and be myself. I’m not going to let cancer take that away from me.”

A survey done by the Economic Intelligence Unit found that women who have cancer mostly do want to remain in the workplace, citing the desire to feel normal. With work often being a comfort, it’s the responsibility of managers to provide a culture that makes space for these women so they can thrive.

In my talk:

I’ll share the perspectives of women who have remained at work through their cancer battle.

I’ll share what they wish they had, offered to them from HR, their caregivers, their community.

What their experiences were like, and what made them thrive.

I will share the tools to build a more inclusive workplace for those who have been diagnosed.


(This lecture is part of our Empowering Women In The Face Of Cancer: Navigating The Path Forward)

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The Lecturer(s)

Marva Bailer, MS

Marva Bailer, MS

During a routine mammogram I was diagnosed a week before my 50th birthday. In the workplace as leaders, teammates, and community it is important to note that the workplace may be a point of control and normalcy. Patients will bring their best selves and possibly their best work to the table because of their challenges. I chose not to tell people because I did not want to be judged or told to relax or take off. I wanted the challenge, the responsibility, the creativity and to be needed. Professionally and personally I had a trophy year, our kids thriving and recognized as the top leader and team in the world for a global public technology company. MARVA BAILER Purpose Driven Leader, Author, Speaker Marva Bailer epitomizes innovation, storytelling, and fearlessness as a trailblazing female tech leader. Recognized as a 2023 Game Changer by Scarlett Abott. Marva disrupts the status quo and ignites innovation in every endeavor she undertakes. With two decades of experience leading billion-dollar teams at high-growth companies like IBM, Amazon, Twilio, Splunk, and startups, including those involved in acquisitions, her impact resonates across diverse business landscapes. Her bylines have appeared in major media outlets like Fox News, NBC, and TMZ, is a distinguished contributor, commentator, and keynote speaker. She is recognized for her expertise in technology, culture, cybersecurity, data privacy, and the profound impact of AI on our ever-evolving world. Marva is a servant leader driven by purpose and passion. Through mentorship and experimentation, she embodies a growth mindset, fostering connections and leading with intention. Experience her unexpected approach to tomorrow's challenges, as she inspires others to ignite innovation and lead with purpose. Recognized as the top career book in the 2023 National Indie Excellence Awards, "Be Unexpected" underscores Marva's dedication to fostering curiosity, courage, confidence, and collaboration among leaders. With a focus on creating positive environments that nurture mutual trust, higher engagement, innovation, and deeper relationships, Marva champions curiosity and inclusivity. Through a creative collection of real-world-tested communication strategies, she empowers both seasoned leaders and developing managers to bring positivity to the workplace and inspire meaningful change. Marva holds a BA from the University of Maryland and an MS from Johns Hopkins University, with recent Executive Education at Harvard University focusing on Business, Competing in the Age of AI. She is a graduate and active alumnus of Leadership Atlanta and engages in continued leadership, mindset, and board education through memberships in Athena Alliance, OnBoard, Him for Her, and the Private Board Directors Association. Marva serves as a board member for the non-profit Women in Technology and as an advisory board member for tech startup Skilibrium. Additionally, she is a founding member of the KSU Master’s in Health Informatics Industry Advisory Board and has delivered two graduation keynotes. Marva's achievements include recognition by the Technology Association of Georgia as “Leader of the Year for Large Enterprise” and as a three-time honoree for “Women of the Year.” LinkedIn’s Top Voice for Servant Leadership. Marva's achievements highlight her innovative spirit and commitment to excellence, shaping the future of technology and talent development, and positively impacting countless individuals. A Gen-Xer, Marva was a latch-key kid raised by a single mother. And as a kid of divorced parents, Marva describes herself as a “red-headed stepchild,”–literally and figuratively. An Old Bay lover originally from Maryland, she loves her seafood steamed. Marva resides in Charleston, SC, and Atlanta, GA, with her husband of 30+ years. She is a hype mom to her two adult children, and daughter in law, and a royal fur baby Ruby, a Cavalier King Charles.

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Marva Bailer, MS

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Marva Bailer, MS


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