Many US businesses that promote their workplaces as supportive of traditionally marginalized groups have created diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs for their employees. However, making campaign donations to anti-abortion politicians who threaten the reproductive health of vulnerable populations, such as women of color, contradicts their purported support of such groups. Businesses need to address this disparity if, in fact, business leaders are serious about safeguarding the reproductive health of women of color.
Following the demise of the Supreme Court decision protecting women’s right to an abortion, “trigger bans”–legislation designed to outlaw abortions— have taken effect in 13 states across the United States. Added to the other states with abortion bans, this amounts to a total of 26 states that have outlawed or restricted abortion. Many U.S. businesses have acted to support their women employees’ right to choose by providing access to funds for traveling to states allowing abortion. This action is consistent with these business’ overall support of women through their DEI policies and programs that support the career advancement of women, including women of color.
However, substantial financial donations to politicians sponsoring trigger bans have come from some of the same businesses that provide comprehensive DEI programs for women as well as funding for travel to pro-choice states. The largest such financial contributor to these politicians is AT&T, which donated $1.2 million to trigger-ban politicians according to Business Insider and FollowTheMoney.org. Yet in the wake of an abortion ban in Texas, AT&T announced a policy that funds travel for “medical services that employees can’t access within 100 miles of where they live.”
Other companies that contributed to anti-abortion politicians, and that also have both comprehensive DEI programs and provision of travel funds for obtaining abortions, include the health care company Johnson & Johnson. Despite their public statements, Big Tech companies Google, Facebook (Meta) and Amazon have sponsored the fight to overturn the right to an abortion in more ways than one.
The hypocritical actions of these firms is not entirely surprising, Lucian Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita found that companies often make public pledges and commitments while retaining corporate governance principles that prioritize the company’s shareholders. In this case, it’s possible that the support of anti-abortion politicians is important for these firms to capture regulators.
Business leaders who support anti-abortion legislation are disadvantaging vulnerable groups that they have publicly declared to support and champion including, among the most vulnerable, African American women, Hispanic women, and Asian women.
Hispanic women often face language barriers in seeking healthcare options, and, for some, a heightened fear of deportation when seeking an abortion. A 2021 study shows that rates of abortion vary widely among Asian women, but that rates are lower for those who are foreign-born. Researcher Amanda Stevenson estimates that a total ban on abortion would create a 33% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women who are forced to give birth, in comparison with an estimated 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths among women in total.
The abortion bans—and attendant health issues–affect millions of women in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 19 million women of color in the United States labor force in September 2022. Among employed women of reproductive age in the U.S. (ages 16 – 44), there are approximately 16.7 million women of color. In the twenty-six states which currently have abortion bans and restrictions, there are approximately 8.3 million employed women of color. Each one of them could possibly be affected by abortion bans – about 11% of labor force in those states.
If women of color are pushed out of the labor force due to medical issues that accompany abortion bans – including deaths – this will not bode well for the U.S. labor force. According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, the Covid pandemic has already hurt the labor force participation of Black employees. However, a bright spot exists given the rise in the number of Black women entrepreneurs. Data indicate that Black women are the fastest-growing group of female entrepreneurs in the United States and are responsible for the increase in Black-owned businesses, many of which are small businesses. Small businesses have, in turn, been shown to generate 44% of U.S. economic activity.
Businesses in the U.S. frequently gain reputational capital when they can demonstrate that they are recognizing previously overlooked skills and talent among historically disadvantaged groups. There are business advantages to having a workforce, and decision-makers, that represent a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Research has shown that diverse groups/organizations are more innovative in their decision-making; perform better financially; experience lower conformity; and inculcate feelings of belonging among employees. Research indicates that employees are likely to demonstrate above-average effort when they perceive that they, and their communities, are treated well. Therefore, businesses that support access to abortion for their employees and surrounding communities should benefit from higher productivity, improved recruitment of talent and higher rates of employee retention, which also affects profitability. The potential loss of working-age women of color is a labor market issue that businesses would not be wise to ignore.
While inequality at the societal level has rarely been addressed by organization and management theorists, a growing number of these scholars are examining the ways in which businesses are designed or evolve to advantage some groups over others, and what actions may be taken to address such inequality. Additionally, recent research indicates an increase in political polarization and a rightward leaning among executives. This ongoing work suggests that reduced political diversity among corporate leaders, and subsequent decisions made by these leadership teams, may not even be in the financial interest of corporate shareholders.
Businesses that purport to champion DEI in their ranks need to walk the talk and act as a countervailing force to the SCOTUS decision on abortion that puts the lives of many women in danger. With enough attention to these issues, including from researchers and activists, there is an opportunity for firms to begin to take meaningful steps to reduce the institutionalized inequality that they have contributed to for years—and to safeguard the well-being and health of their women of color employees. This investment in employee welfare will pay dividends to the wellbeing of the workforce and protect the reputational capital that these organizations are in danger of losing.
The author was previously employed as a consultant with a non-profit organization and in that position consulted with a variety of corporations, among them AT&T which is mentioned in this article.
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