In the months since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many employers have been publicly (and quietly) shiweirdnews24ing their policies and communicating those changes to workers.
But many workers aren’t satisfied with the actions thus far—about 44% want to see their employers doing more to ensure abortion access, according to a recent survey of 1,227 employed U.S. adults conducted by Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to issues among women in the workplace. Over half of younger employees ages 18 to 34 (52%) believe their companies aren’t doing enough to help workers get the access they need.
Two thirds say their employers’ response to the Court’s decisions and states’ limits on abortion rights has been “performative” and without real substance.
And more than half (53%) say their company still hasn’t had much of a response to the policy changes. About a third of the men and women surveyed report they’d like to see their CEO more actively advocating to protect abortion rights.
“Our research shows that employees expect their companies’ external statements to match their internal policies. In other words, companies and leaders need to ‘walk the walk’ and be authentic around policy decisions,” says Lorraine Hariton, Catalyst’s president and CEO.
This dismay could affect companies’ ability to retain talent. About 30% of workers are considering leaving their jobs due to their employer’s response.
“This is no longer a hypothetical; employees are worried about their futures and making career decisions based on how their companies and leaders address abortion access,” Hariton tells Fortune. “All of this points to what we already know: Abortion access is a workplace issue. We are in a labor shortage, and recruitment and retention are already a challenge. At a time when we need to be thinking about talent engagement and employee retention, leaders cannot afford to ignore this.”
What companies can do to up their game
Since the Supreme Court decision in June, more than 100 companies have publicly supported abortion rights. Many, like Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Starbucks, Uber, and the Walt Disney Company have offered to cover travel expenses for abortion care. In a survey of over 300 employers by WTW, 35% of companies reported they currently offer travel benefits for both elective and medically necessary abortions. Another 16% reported they plan to add these types of benefits next year.
But while these benefits are critical, it remains to be seen whether employees feel they avail themselves to these options, says Megha Bansal Rizoli, the director of organizational strategy at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit aimed at equitable economic advancement in the workforce.
“It’s important, and part of the responsibility of the employer, to make sure that employees understand all the benefits, understand what that means if they live in a state with one of these trigger laws or bans that have been recently put into effect, and ensure that their employees know what they can access—and making that widely available,” Bansal Rizoli says. In the past, some benefits have only been available to full-time employees or those working in corporate headquarters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, many work-from-home policies and paid time off policies were limited to only sections of companies’ workforces.
Travel expenses are, of course, just one of the policy shiweirdnews24s employers can make to support their employees’ reproductive rights. Some organizations, for instance, have offered relocation assistance for workers who choose to move out of states with these restrictive abortion policies.
More flexible paid time off policies and remote work options are also helpful, given that many workers who need to access an abortion may need to take time away from work to do so. Not only is more time off helpful, but flexibility is also key, Bansal Rizoli says. Many employer PTO policies still require workers to report their time off in a specific way—as sick time with a doctor’s note, for example. That could be potentially invasive to their privacy or even open them up to liability under some state laws.
“It’s incumbent on the employer to communicate, to make sure that employees know where they stand, and to remove some of the ambiguity that comes with navigating the social and political issues right now,” Bansal Rizoli says.
It’s not enough to simply change internal policies, however; employers need to clearly communicate these changes—repeatedly. “If it doesn’t land, it doesn’t really matter,” Bansal Rizoli says. And it’s clearly not. Nearly six in 10 workers want more clarity and transparency around their employer’s policies on reproductive healthcare, according to Catalyst’s survey.
Organizations need to be explicit: If you need to avail yourself of travel expenses or another reproductive health benefit, here’s exactly what you would do: Remove the ambiguity, Bansal Rizoli says. “Let’s be really clear about what we’re offering and why we’re offering it—and let’s be really clear about how you can avail yourself of it.”
Businesses can and should weigh in on reproductive rights
These issues may be challenging for employers to weigh in on, but it’s definitely in their purview to do so. “We’re in uncharted waters and most company leaders are still grappling with how best to support their employees,” Hariton says, adding that even then, it’s critical for leaders and managers to provide clear, consistent communication to their employees about their reproductive healthcare benefits and policies—even if they haven’t figured it all out yet. “In uncertain times, communication and transparency go a long way.”
The economic impact of restrictive abortion policies alone provides a huge business case for why employers need to be involved. “Denying access to abortion has a whole host of negative ramifications,” Bansal Rizoli says. Several studies have found that abortion restrictions lead to earning losses among women; one study found there was a drop of up to 6.5% in average monthly salaries of women of childbearing age, compared with the general population. Restrictive state abortion laws cost $105 billion annually in reduced labor force participation, productivity, and reduced earning levels, according to 2021 findings from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Many employers are still figuring out how to navigate the space where social and political issues are increasingly colliding with business practices and policies, Bansal Rizoli says. But those who are simply hoping that staying silent is an effective, inoffensive solution will likely be disappointed in the long run.
As Bansal Rizoli puts it, “The responsibility that some employers have, combined with this intersection of political and social issues we’ve seen over and over again for the last 10 to 15 years, is only going to get more important.”
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