I was raised in the church and its message on gender and salvation was clear: Eve succumbed to temptation, corrupted Adam, and as a result of Eve’s short-sightedness, every woman must repent in perpetuity. Young girls should pursue piety by keeping a nickel clenched tightly between our knees lest our inner Jezebel tempt our male peers. In contrast, “boys will be boys” absolved the wandering eyes, hands, and actions of too many for too long.
So when the nickel slipped and the next generation squalled in the arms of the most recently abandoned and unwed mother, our congregation and closest family begged for forgiveness while hopefully supporting both the mother and her newborn. The young mother may have had second thoughts or felt that her choices and options disappeared along with her sexual partner. Ultimately, many young mothers preferred vigilant repentance over the salvation-questioning “testimonies’’ of would-be mothers who chose to abort.
This was my experience growing up, which shaped so much of my world view. And it is but one of many experiences that illustrate the fraught relationship we all have with a woman’s ability to make her own choices about her body and the life that comes from within. What is consistent, regardless of upbringing or background, is how charged the topic of abortion is for individuals and institutions. Abortion conjures fault lines on every taboo topic- sexuality, power, religion, politics.
Within this context, how can companies ever hope to create environments where all employees can thrive regardless of the personal, and often charged, beliefs they will bring to this issue?
The answer is not easy, but the question is simple. Abortion is ultimately an issue of health and economic equity. The question confronting corporate leaders, particularly those who operate across the country with competing state laws, is not whether abortion is morally right or wrong. The question is: am I willing to support some employees while upholding barriers for others?
The question is simple because abortion is not illegal in this country–it is just easier to access for some women based on nothing other than where they live. If one employee’s state prohibits access to this medical procedure, it could cost her thousands of dollars to visit another state to have the same access as another employee. This does not include the indirect costs of missing work to travel, which at best will result in an even smaller paycheck, and at worst, can lead to termination. To compound matters, the employees who are most likely vulnerable to these issues are women of color.
Corporate leaders must disabuse themselves of the notion that abstaining from providing access is neutral. Instead, providing inequitable access to medical care, regardless of state laws, is upholding and promoting gender, racial, and economic discrimination.
Several companies have made abortion access a clear equity issue. Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, CVS, Starbucks and many others have offered their employees reimbursement for travel from states that have outlawed abortion to states that retain the right to do so. Many of these companies are already offering generous pay and benefits for their employees and have taken stands on social issues–for example, Dick’s and Kroger eliminated gun sales in response to mass shootings; Starbucks has offered employees free college courses.
These companies understand the Social Impact Advantage: taking a stand on social causes makes businesses sense. If some of our employees have access to certain rights, and others don’t, then we aren’t serving our employees. This isn’t–or shouldn’t–be a political statement. A company supporting a person’s right to make a decision about their own healthcare is no different than a company giving employees options for their health insurance. Companies making these statements aren’t encouraging their employees to get aboritions, but ensuring that everyone who works for them has equal rights and access. Just because a company offers dental or vision insurance doesn’t mean each employee will go to the dentist or see an eye doctor.
Ensuring this access is another way to invest in employees, strengthening retention and decreasing turnover. Companies that are supporting the fundamental rights of their employees will only benefit in the long run.
This is especially true for frontline employees, and employees of color. As research from FSG has found, frontline employees–defined as entry-level employees who engage closely with customers–represent a huge opportunity for companies looking to grow and invest their talent pool in an increasingly diverse country. High-performing companies are 1.5 times more likely to offer entry-level employees the chance to advance in their careers than lower performing companies
Around nine million of the country’s 24 million frontline employees are people of color. FSG says they “represent a reservoir of talent, innovative ideas, and multicultural competency that are increasingly sources of competitive advantage.” Many of these workers face additional barriers to success due to the effects of racism on their lives and their families and are more likely to be affected by the overturning of Roe.
This issue will likely be more salient for larger corporations with employees across states to take on. Small businesses may not have the resources to take a stand on this–or they may not want to for personal reasons. But if you are a large company with some employees in a state where there’s legal abortion access and a state where there isn’t, doing nothing will inherently perpetuate inequity.
Not everyone has my experiences with abortion, nor my views. But we all now live in a country with inequitable access to a medical procedure. And companies need to make the choice: do they want to treat all their employees with equity and fairness–or support the discrimination, racism and sexism that this new legal patchwork has created?
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