Choose to Lead on Choice

There are few topics in America more divisive than access to reproductive healthcare. I grew up in a conservative area of the country. I know first hand that anti-choice convictions are deeply held core values and often, but not always, wound tightly into certain religious beliefs. Ironically, I wrote my senior thesis in college on how this debate influenced, often negatively, decisions around providing access to overall health care for young people. 

As a result, it’s an incredibly challenging divide for any leader to navigate, especially any leader with a large workforce across multiple states. The tempting thing to do, and what many leaders have done historically, is stay silent. After Friday’s Supreme Court decision, I don’t think that’s going to be possible. Business leaders will be asked by their employees to take a stand, one way or the other, on reproductive rights. Especially businesses that operate in states where the laws may change. Here are three reasons I think business leaders, regardless of personal beliefs, should lead on protecting access to reproductive healthcare.

Women are your employees and they want the right to choose

In 1973, when Roe v Wade was decided, about 50% of women of child-bearing age worked. In 2020, more than 75% of women in that age bracket work. In other words, the women most affected by this ruling are your own employees. What do your female employees want? 67% in that age bracket want access. If this were a vote, it would be a super majority. 

The business case for access to reproductive healthcare is extremely strong

In 2020, FSG released a report, The Business Case for Reproductive Health that showed businesses in states with more restrictive access had 9% lower business growth rates and women in those states are three times more likely to be unemployed. Other research has shown your ability to attract talent will be more limited if you operate in a state with access restrictions. It also showed that companies with strong reproductive healthcare benefits are more likely to retain talent. Restricting access to reproductive healthcare is just bad for business.

An equitable workplace requires equitable access to reproductive healthcare

A lack of access to reproductive healthcare can reverse years of progress on gender equity, women in senior leadership roles, and women on boards. Having a patchwork of states with different policies will now require this lens for decisions around where to locate operations or hold events. Even business travel gets complicated, as it’s entirely reasonable that a pregnant female employee may not want to travel to a state with restrictions in case of an emergency that could threaten her own life. How will you handle that? Will refusing to go affect her career? Gender equity is already challenging in the workplace. This ruling will make it worse.

In their recent Harvard Business Review article, Roe v Wade’s Demise is a turning point for Corporate America, the authors state that many leaders are surprised at the magnitude of response from those on their teams. They shouldn’t be. Their teams are now filled with women who relied on, and continue to rely on, access to reproductive healthcare. Reproductive rights are human rights, according to the United Nations. 64 million American women now face losing those rights. It’s extremely personal. 

So what can leaders do to lead?  It is important that companies acknowledge that not everyone feels similarly about the topic and encourage respectful discourse. But they still need to protect the health and safety of their female employees, starting with ensuring your employees maintain access regardless of where they live. Some, including Google (and WeSpire), have stated they will relocate employees if desired. Some, like Patagonia, have gone as far to say they will cover bail for any employee arrested protesting this decision.

Ultimately, companies who support access to reproductive healthcare for all need to vote with their wallets. They need to strip funding from anti-choice politicians and organizations, they need to pull advertising from any media that is catalyzing the loss of access at the state level, and they need to speak up and speak out with other leaders at the state level. WeSpire joined a business movement, Don’t Ban Equality, that now has over six hundred corporate signatories and is growing rapidly. Companies must choose to lead on choice.

I thoroughly support people’s right to their individual opinion, and their right to convince individuals to share that opinion. But we can not, as business leaders, support stripping our workforce of their access to reproductive healthcare. It’s not good for women and their families. It’s not good for business. It’s not good for America.

Quote of the Week: “Reproductive rights are women’s rights and human rights.”

The United Nations

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