The announcement of SCOTUS’ decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has triggered an influx of questions in our inboxes, all asking the same thing: “What do we say?”
“I know it’s a controversial topic, but as a benefits issue, it needs to be addressed by employers,” says Airbo Co-Founder Kate Bernier.
We’re seeing that best-in-class employers are stepping in with proactive messaging for a few reasons.
Say something or risk damage to your employer brand
This is a sensitive issue, and it may be tempting for some leaders to steer clear and let it play out. We don’t think that’s wise.
The ball is in an employer’s court. When leaders don’t comment, it implies a stance that could damage the employer's brand.
- Nine out of 10 major companies believe that pressure to engage on social issues has increased considerably, according to the Public Affairs Council.
- Survey results reflect this phenomenon, showing that nearly two-thirds of employees think companies should take public stands on social issues.
When Airbo employee Meghan Gatto heard the news, she said she was “terrified,” not just for herself, but for how the ruling will affect marginalized communities. Meghan isn’t alone. Polling by Gallup shows that 86% of women and 83% of men think abortion should be legal at least in some circumstances. Women also represent nearly 58% of the U.S. labor force; a major consideration for any employer.
Employees expect you to comment and not doing so leaves employees to draw their own conclusions. As Gatto put it, companies make a statement when they don’t say anything. “Your silence is deafening.”
Acknowledge that the issue affects your employees and communicate your action. Your statement can be as simple as saying that you care for your employees, and that you’re seriously evaluating options.
For Gatto, comfort came from a statement shared by Bernier, pictured below. Notice that it didn’t include definitive policy changes, but provided an update that Airbo is working on the issue and watching where things were trending.
Gatto said that knowing that her employer supports her right to safe reproductive healthcare makes her feel like she “picked the right company to work at.”
The business case for abortion: attracting and retaining employees
Polarization in America is at an all-time high, so it’s natural to be concerned about how a company’s stance on abortion rights could disengage some employees, but here’s an important re-frame: this is actually a fundamental business issue.
As Sandra Sucher, a professor of management at Harvard Business School put it in a recent The Hill article: “Everyone’s scrambling to have the employees they need, and so employers are asking themselves: Could I stand the possibility of a lawsuit against the certainty that some employees may just not stay with me if I don’t support this? It’s not an easy call to make, but I could imagine a lot of people ending in that place.”
Since the landmark passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, plenty of research has shown that guaranteed safe access to reproductive healthcare supports women’s participation in the labor force and, ultimately, the economy. Abortion bans and restrictions cost state and local economies $105 billion a year by reducing labor force participation among women, according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The current climate of the labor market is a significant factor in the anxiety that every employer should feel about this decision. In a tight labor market, helping employees with their reproductive rights and enabling them to stay in the labor force can far outweigh the threat of any legal action behind abortion criminalization.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that dozens of major companies have made public statements and changed internal policies, deciding to add benefits like reimbursements for abortion access-related travel expenses.
We recommend being proactive about understanding the workforce implications of this decision. There is a very good chance that candidates and employees will be asking a lot of questions about their access to abortion through their employer. Having that access may prove to be a make-or-break benefit, especially for lower-paid employees that can’t take the time off or pay for travel. With the legal risks involved, you may not have an official policy, but it’s important to at least have official messaging.
Abortion is an operational benefits issue
As a matter of healthcare and in the context of benefits, it is imperative that companies proactively communicate about reproductive healthcare and how they support employees’ access to it.
If you don’t, expect that employees will ask you questions about your policies. 69% of women with health insurance do not know if their coverage includes abortion, a procedure necessary for health issues such as managing miscarriage, saving a woman from ectopic pregnancy, and family planning through IVF.
SCOTUS’ decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will affect companies’ policies and processes, from maternity and paternity leave to HIPAA, FMLA, recruitment/retention, and capacity planning. Companies should contact their legal teams to determine the best ways to navigate them.
According to Bernier, “Access to safe reproductive healthcare like abortion directly relates to employees’ total compensation package, which includes their benefits, and should be communicated as such.”
How to decide what to say
Acknowledge and reassure
Companies should first acknowledge how the ruling will affect the plans they offer and reassure employees that they support them. Bernier also recommends shifting the narrative from politics to how the company cares for employees.
“You need to show your employees that you care; that’s most important,” said Bernier. “You also need to talk to your lawyers and healthcare provider to confirm how plans can align with employees’ reproductive care needs, especially if you have employees living in states where abortion is or will become illegal.
Plan to follow-up
Secondly, companies should consistently follow up on their progress. Making a timely statement without plans for follow-up communication is more than bad optics; it’s one of the fastest ways to lose trust. “As the benefits landscape evolves in response to the repeal of Roe v. Wade, it is so important to keep people up-to-date,” Bernier said. “Keeping people informed will maintain the momentum.”
Lastly, companies need to act on what they said they would do. Without actual action, all the work put into messaging will quickly unravel. People have become attune to “woke-washing.” Read more about “woke-washing” here and here.
“The wellbeing of Airbo employees is the most important thing to us, and we are going to do everything in our power to ensure our people are taken care of,” said Bernier. “As a leader in benefits communications, we refuse to enable actions that do not support employees, and we are steadfast in our commitment to supporting companies that care for their people.”
Need a point of reference? Check out our roundup of resources.
17 examples of company statements on the overturn of Roe v. Wade
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Conde Nast
- DICK’s Sporting Goods
- Electronic Arts
- Goldman Sachs
- Levi Strauss & Co.
Recommended reading on how companies are responding to the repeal of Roe v. Wade
- Read the memos that Disney, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and more sent to staff regarding the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, Fortune
- When Where You Work Determines if You Can Get an Abortion, The New York Times
- Walmart, Target Show Divergence on Companies’ Abortion Coverage, The Wall Street Journal
- Why companies think paying for abortion travel is worth it, The Hill
- Top American Businesses React to Supreme Court Overturn of Roe v. Wade, Business Insider