The debate over abortion has long centered on religion and politics, but last year’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade deeply impacts business, labor, and the entire economy, according to experts who spoke recently with Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary.

“If I could go back 50 years and wave a magic wand, I would make abortion as much about economic empowerment and economic justice as anything else,” said Jen Stark, co-director of the Center for Business and Social Justice, which is part of BSR, a sustainable business network and consultancy. “We’ve helped companies understand this for what it is — an ongoing, slow-moving public health crisis that leaves companies as a firewall, whether they want to be or not, when it comes to their workers accessing abortion care.”

Stark joined Creary’s podcast series, Leading Diversity at Work, to discuss the connection between work and women’s reproductive rights ahead of the first anniversary of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That decision on June 24, 2022, reversed the landmark 1973 Roe ruling and returned the right to regulate abortions to individual states. Abortion is now fully banned in 14 states, and six more states ban the procedure after a certain number of weeks of pregnancy.

Creary invited two more experts to join the discussion: Bobbi Thomason, former Wharton postdoc who is assistant professor of applied behavioral science at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School; and Megha Bansal Rizoli, a Wharton MBA graduate who is director of employer mobilization at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit working toward equitable economic advancement.

Creary said she convened the panel because she wanted to talk openly about a taboo topic that has left many employers confused about what, if anything, they should be doing.

“Businesses always have somewhat of a tense, precarious understanding of their relationship to broader societal issues and concerns. We also know that when the decision came out, there weren’t a lot of employers who wanted to get on camera or to be recorded saying what they were doing,” she said. “As a diversity scholar, I was trying to figure out, what is the right way to talk about this conversation?”

“If I could go back 50 years and wave a magic wand, I would make abortion as much about economic empowerment and economic justice as anything else.”— Jen Stark, co-director of BSR’s Center for Business and Social Justice

Help Women’s Reproductive Rights, Help the Workforce

The panelists said reproductive health care is fundamental to equality. Survey data show that a majority of women seeking abortions cite financial reasons for their choice. Data also show that employees, particularly younger women, care about how their employers respond to the controversy. Ultimately, the panelists said, women’s participation in the workforce and their earnings hinge on their access to health care and child care.

“It’s a critical issue for equitable economic advancement and a critical issue in which employers have a huge role,” Bansal Rizoli said.

In an article for MIT Sloan Management Review, Thomason outlined a call to action that she repeated for the podcast:

  1. Allow remote work and location flexibility so that women can make their own choices about where they want to access safe, reproductive health care.
  2. Support employees in accessing reproductive care. When the Dobbs decision was leaked in May 2022, a number of employers such as Amazon responded by pledging financial support for employees who would be forced to travel to seek safe abortions.
  3. Partner with organizations that specialize in providing reproductive care, such as Hey Jane and Just the Pill.
  4. Be intentional about where to hold organizational events and conferences, which are key to professional development. “When a predictable faction and segment of your workforce is not going to be safe attending those events, you’re marginalizing and perpetuating inequalities,” Thomason said.
  5. Make sure financial support, donations, and lobbying efforts are aligned and consistent with the company’s values.

“As a diversity scholar, I was trying to figure out, what is the right way to talk about this conversation?”— Stephanie Creary

Bansal Rizoli agreed with those steps and added a few more: Focus on mental health and well-being by creating safe spaces for dialogue on the issue, extend childcare benefits and flexibility for working parents, and prioritize equality.

“The truth of the matter is that for women, and particularly women working in low-wage jobs and women of color, this access can mean the difference between economic insecurity and economic advancement,” she said. “And the choice to participate in the workforce often, unfortunately, comes down to issues of access to health care and child care in this country.”

Stark’s organization has published “Six Actions for Businesses in a Post-Roe America” that push companies toward advocacy. She said neutrality is not an option anymore.

“If I had to put it on a bumper sticker for business right now, I’d say, ‘The sidelines are no longer the middle ground.’ This issue is literally showing up on the doorsteps of companies,” Stark said.

The women agreed that more companies are taking a stand on reproductive rights and other hot-button issues as they begin to understand the potential impact on their talent pool. They said it’s important for employers to turn inward and listen to their workers, especially women and those from underrepresented groups. And they exhorted leaders to do more to create a healthy, safe, and inclusive environment.

“This isn’t about a statement you put out. This isn’t a PR campaign. This is about the work and making your workplace one in which all employees can thrive,” Bansal Rizoli said.


Stephanie Creary: Hello. My name is Stephanie Creary, and I’m an Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and I’m delighted to welcome you to today’s episode of the Knowledge at Wharton Leading Diversity at Work podcast series, which is focused on reproductive rights and the impact on education and the workforce. Joining me today are three very special guests. First, we have Professor Bobbi Thomason, who is Assistant Professor of Applied Behavioral Science at Graziadio Business School, Pepperdine University in California. Prior to that, Bobbi was a postdoctoral fellow at the Wharton School. Her research explores how individuals of traditionally underrepresented social categories at work pursue their careers globally, and work in the workplace. She is particularly interested in how individuals overcome inequality and social hierarchies in order to attain career rewards and resources. Part of her research agenda focuses on women overcome professional barriers to their career ascension. Bobbi has worked in conflict management consulting, and as a research associate at Harvard Business School, and the Harvard-Kennedy School.

She also was the international research fellow for Sheryl Sandburg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. She’s also a contributor to the Lean-In Foundation, and recently, along with a number of business school professors from around the world, Bobbi published an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review which was focused on and entitled “How Organizations Can Take a Lead in Protecting Reproductive Rights.”

Next, we have Mega Bansal Rizoli, who is Director of Employer Mobilization at Jobs for the Future, and an alum of the Wharton MBA program. Megha has over 15 years of experience working in strategy and innovation. She started her career working for the federal government, dabble in research and analytics at the Brookings Institution, and she spent close to a decade working in consulting at Monitor Deloitte, where she focused on how large-scale disruptive trends impact organizations, communities, and people. Megha was also a fellow at the World Ecodomic Forum, where she launched a major research initiative and publication at the 50th WF Annual Meeting in Davos in 2020.

At Jobs for the Future, Megha drives strategy, thought leadership, and high-impact initiatives focused on transforming policies and practices, building capacities, and driving behavior change of private sector employers and employer coalitions and associations towards equitable economic advancement for all. Megha’s published thought leadership and guidance to employers on how best to respond to the Supreme Court decision that ended up overturning Roe v. Wade. And she provided this thought leadership prior to the decision. She’s also shared these insights and others in both the popular press and at this year’s South by Southwest EDU conference.

And last, we have Jen Stark, who is Co-Director at the Center for Business and Social Justice at Business for Social Responsibility. She’s been working for over the past year to prepare companies for the fall of Roe by addressing the workforce impact and identifying meaningful ways they can respond, including advocacy, data privacy, risk mitigation, and corporate political giving alignment. Prior to joining BSR, Jen directed investments at the Tara Health Foundation to drive behavior change among private sector employers, on gender and racial equity including historic progress on paid family and medical leave, reproductive health and other workplace protections. Before working in philanthropy, she founded the corporate relations program at Planned Parenthood Federation of America to unlock advocacy, grantmaking, and employee support, to preserve access to reproductive health care nationwide. While at Planned Parenthood, Jen also helped launch Don’t Ban Equality, a national platform for businesses that reinforces abortion as a workforce and economic issue.

So it goes without saying that we have quite an accomplished group of panelists today for our Leading Diversity at Work podcast. Welcome Bobbi, Megha and Jen. I’m so delighted and honored to have you here with me today with us for what I hope will be a very interesting and provocative conversation about reproductive rights and the impact they are having, have had, will continue to have on education and the workforce. I would love to start us off by talking about the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. So this is the decision that overturned, last year, Roe v. Wade. And I want to just give ourselves, our audience, more of a sense of how you’ve entered this conversation, where you sit in this conversation, and what your work is in relationship to this topic.

Bobbi, let’s start with you. How and why did you become involved in this topic focused on reproductive rights and the necessity for organizations to take it up? And can you summarize some of the main parts of the MIT Sloan Management Review article I referenced earlier?

Bobbi Thomason: Gladly. Thank you so much, Stephanie, for having us here and hosting this conversation, which I think is only increasingly relevant in the world today. As you kindly introduced, I broadly study inequality at work, and I’m very focused on the experiences of women. To do that research, I generally do inductive work. So I will open with a broad-ended question about how, and the principle of the work that I’m really trained in doing is to follow the data. And one thing that keeps emerging from the data over more than a decade of my work is the ways in which life outside of work fundamentally shapes women’s careers within organizations. And I think as professionals ourselves, and in the audience, it probably is just a given that in the midst of our careers, life is happening.

And so unsurprisingly for women, children, caregiving, marriage, these things really fundamentally shape their careers. Just as an example, we find that research on the gender gap in earnings and leadership is really a function of the fact that women and men have different career paths. And women end up making choices as a result of the context in their families and their organizations where they pursue different paths. And this research shapes their earnings.

So given the findings on just parenthood and pregnancy, the research on abortion access is also quite stark, that when individuals with uteruses do not have access to abortions, they are more likely to be out of the workforce six months after that care is denied, and in the long term are more likely to end up in economically precarious situations and raising children in poverty. So as a scholar, the evidence on the connection between abortion rights, reproductive rights, and work is just very fundamental.

So when the decision came out last June, it was striking both as a scholar aware of the evidence and the consequences of reproductive and abortion care— and it also felt personal. It was something that I worried, what did this mean for the safety of myself, for the people I care about? I have a young daughter. What is our country going to look like for her and the choices that she is going to be able to make? So I had Tweeted, “What can we do as management scholars at this moment with the particular tools that we have?” And that led to multiple conversations with other faculty, other scholars. And the first step was actually realizing that our own professional association hosts conferences that rotate around the US. And we realized that in the past, this had been in states where abortion access was now either illegal or severely limited. And we got together and wrote a petition that over 500 management scholars signed, asking our association to agree to not hold conferences in those states. And ultimately, our professional association did not support our petition.

And while that was quite disappointing, the process of putting that petition together gave us a chance to think about, what do we want our own organization to be doing? What could other organizations be doing? And so collectively, we wrote this article for MIT Sloan Management Review, documenting the very clear consequences for employment and economic security when abortion access is denied. And we specifically outlined five things that organizations could do for their employees in the wake of the Dobbs decision. The first was to allow for remote work and location flexibility. Suddenly, the health care that individuals can access changed dramatically. And we really encourage companies to let your employees and workers make choices for themselves about where they are going to be safe. Second, to support employees in accessing reproductive care. This was a move that we did see a lot of organizations saying, in the wake of Dobbs, “We will help pay if you need to travel to access abortion care.”

The third thing we talked about was partnering with organizations that are experts in providing this care. So this is something we see a lot of progressive companies doing around family planning and pregnancy, and there are indeed organizations like Hey Jane and Just the Pill, that are experts in supporting abortion care that organizations can partner with. Because this is not expertise that every company has. The fourth thing, and very poignant to us, was to be careful about where you are holding your organizational events and conferences. Big conferences are professional development opportunities. They are where people are seeing senior folks in the organization that have control over promotions and key opportunities, and when a predictable faction and segment of your workforce is not going to be safe attending those events, you’re marginalizing and perpetuating inequalities. And so we really felt very strongly, and that felt personal, about thinking about, where are you going to have promotable, career-consequential events?

And the fifth thing was that we reminded organizations to be really careful to align where your money is going with the values you’re purporting. So we saw, after the Dobbs decision, lots of organizations were speaking in support. And many of them were also lobbying politicians that were supporting legislation that went specifically against those words. So it also is really an opportunity for organizations to think about being consistent.

Creary: Thank you so much, Bobbi. Bobbi and I belong to the same professional organization, so I’ve watched all of this unfold. And I remember when you all posted to our group chat that the association had not been supportive. But something that I think was helpful to me— admittedly, when we started talking about where the conference should be held, I didn’t make all the links as to why that would be a problem, outside of the values. But we all have different values. Some people in our organization are pro-choice, and some are pro-life. And so it wasn’t really about that. It wasn’t about declaring us as a pro-choice organization, so don’t hold conferences in places— it wasn’t that. I think it was in one of the various pieces that you all wrote, whether it was to the group or publicly — it was understanding conditions under which someone might need access to abortion care.  And one of those that really resonated with me was, at various stages of a pregnancy, the pregnancy may no longer be viable. Right? And this may be a wanted and desired pregnancy. And the answer to that pregnancy becomes abortion. That’s the only option. And so if that happens to you and you’re in one of these states, you will have a hard time accessing that care that you need for this pregnancy that you probably did want but is no longer viable. That, to me, sounded really also interesting and important. And I felt like that could even resonate with people who are pro-life. This is a danger to the person with the uterus, to keep that pregnancy. It’s a life-or-death matter to them. And then if you’re in a state that says that this is not something that we provide, now your life is truly in danger.

Were there other examples that you can speak to, that would help people who perhaps are more along the lines of, you know, “I don’t know why abortion matters to a conversation about where we hold conferences?” that I didn’t already explicate? That was the one that stood out to me, as perhaps helping some people find clarity around the importance of this issue.

Thomason: Well, yes, exactly. I mean, I think you’re raising a critical point. Which is, a lot of us in writing the article wrote from the perspective as mothers, or along the way of our journey to being mothers. And I think it can’t be emphasized enough that what has been curtailed in the wake of this legislation are medical procedures that are also necessary for people who desperately and happily want to become parents. But depending on how a pregnancy goes, a D&C — which is now a procedure that will be considered an abortion and is illegal, punishable as a felony in states in the country now — is what is necessary in the case of a pregnancy not becoming viable. And so I have had even friends talk about having a miscarriage while traveling. And thinking about, what does that look like today? Suddenly, we’re making questions about thinking through, are we going to be safe? And I think we’ll continue to talk about this in our conversation. But we’re seeing, you know, doctors are really being constrained in what they can do, and this is leading to doctors leaving states. Hospitals — I mean, just this week in the news, hospitals closing their maternity wards because they can not safely deliver babies anymore. The ripple effect of this decision is really quite wide.

Creary: Right. Thank you so much, Bobbi. Let me turn to you, Megha. Can you share with us a little bit about the work that you’ve been doing in this area as well? So as I mentioned when I introduced you, Megha is an alum of the Wharton School. She actually was in my first Leading Diversity in Organizations class that I taught at Wharton back in 2017 or 2018, you were in the class. I can’t remember now. But interestingly, Megha and I have had a number of different contexts over the years, certainly initiated by you, where you’ve invited me to be part of things that you’re doing. And one of the things that you recently invited me to be a part of was a panel that you put together for South by Southwest EDU, and we talked about many of these issues and topics. I actually, Bobbi, referred to your article and some of the insights from your article during this topic. But can you show a little bit more about that and other activities, Megha, that you’ve been involved in with respect to the topic of reproductive rights?

Megha Rizoli: Yes. Stephanie, thank you. And thank you for having me. My work at Jobs For the Future really focuses on unlocking the potential of the private sector to drive equitable economic advancement for all. And Bobbi, as she just laid out— I mean, when we think about reproductive rights and abortion care, and as we’ve seen this play out, this is a huge issue around economic mobility, and a huge issue for employers.

The stats are incredible, right? And you highlighted some of them, too, Bobbi. I mean, one in four working women will have an abortion in their lifetime. And as you’ve mentioned, women who do not have access to abortion care are three times more likely to leave the workforce more likely to have a household income below the federal poverty line. Not to mention the economic impacts on states, of state abortion laws costing over $100 billion annually in reduced labor force participation and productivity and reduced earnings.

Last year, when the decision was leaked at Jobs For the Future, JFF, we knew we needed to do and say something about it. And so in response to that, my organization — we first quickly organized to adapt our own benefits and policies to support the preservation of reproductive rights for our employees no matter where they live. We work in all 50 states. Including travel benefits, flex time off, and a number of other things. We also quickly organized our own call to action for employers to do more to support reproductive rights, beyond just the travel benefits that so many have now started providing. So, extending benefits plans, going beyond this to talk about time off, flexibility, childcare. Checking in on employee psychological safety and creating spaces for that dialogue. And, among other things, examining corporate policies around political donations and how you’re aligning values.

And a lot of the work that we outlined, Bobbi, matches up quite nicely with the call to action that you also had, that this is really about how employers can be supporting employee well-being, job equality. Our work really focuses on that. We think about and we do work on how to help employers become good, become better, right? And become more impactful in prioritizing employee well-being and job equality. We view this as a critical component of that.

I will also say, on the personal front — I’m going to tear up here, because I was three months pregnant when this decision came out and found out we were having a baby girl on the day that this decision was leaked. And so this was incredibly personal for me as I thought about what this was going to mean for the future of my little girl’s life, right? And the decisions and the country she was going to grow up in. She’s six months old now, so everything is great. But I view this as a little bit of my dedication to her, right? And the life and the country I want her to live in. So it was very personal for me, too. And everything you shared about being a working mother right now, and thinking about how these issues play out on the personal and the work front, it’s just very core to my motivation and passion around this as well.

Creary: Thank you, Megha. Let’s turn to you, Jen. Welcome. I would love to hear more about the work that you’ve been doing in this area, which has certainly been quite extensive, and I would say intentional as well. So can you share with us what you’ve been doing?

Jen Stark: Yeah. I just want to reiterate, thanks again for creating a space for this conversation and for the team at Knowledge@Wharton for recognizing abortion as a workforce and an economic issue. If I could go back 50 years and wave a magic wand, I would make abortion as much about economic empowerment and economic justice as anything else. I think it’s also important, as I share a bit more about how I approach the work, just to level-set currently that abortion is now banned in 14 states following the overturn of Roe nearly a year ago. These states are mostly in the Southeast and deep South. In many states, the fight over abortion access is still taking place in courtrooms daily, while other states have moved to expand and protect access to abortion.

So all that said, I was among the founders of the Don’t Ban Equality platform back in 2019, in what was then a historic spike in state-level abortion restrictions. Companies were calling leading reproductive health organizations like Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro Choice America, to understand the impact of abortion bans at the time in Georgia and in the Midwest and struggling to find ways to talk about it. So Don’t Ban Equality is now a coalition of more than 800 businesses, from large to small, making the case that policies that restrict reproductive health care are bad for business. And Don’t Ban Equality was actually just recognized by Fast Company among the world-changing ideas. And, you know, as everyone said so far, access to abortion care impacts business operations, workplace benefits, workforce health and safety, talent mobility. And it’s important, also, to underscore that access to abortion is supported. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe reproductive health care decisions should be between patients and providers. And the majority of residents in 43 states say abortion should be legal. This is playing out in states where we’ve seen ballot measures, like Michigan, Kentucky, and Kansas.

And so from where I sit now at BSR, a 30-plus-year-old organization that works with business, particularly large companies on a range of issues across the globe, we’ve been preparing business to respond to the fall of Roe. And I’ve been telling them that this is just the end of the beginning. So we’ve helped companies understand this for what it is; this is an ongoing, slow-moving public health crisis that leaves companies as a fire wall, whether they want to be or not, when it comes to their workers accessing abortion care.

Why Women’s Reproductive Rights Are Impacting the Workforce

Creary: Absolutely. This conversation has already been rich so far. What we’re going to do from here is continuing to unpack a lot of what you were saying. Megha, I’m going to go back to you. The mission of JFF, Jobs For the Future, which is your employer, is “to drive transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.” So that’s the stated mission on the website. But I think it might be hard for some people to automatically link a conversation about reproductive rights and the Dobbs decision to that mission. Can you connect the dots for us a little bit more?

Rizoli: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll repeat it again. As you said, our mission is around achieving equitable economic advancement for all. And the truth of the matter is that for women and particularly women working in low-wage jobs and women of color, this access can mean the difference between economic insecurity and economic advancement. And the choice to participate in the workforce often, unfortunately, comes down to issues of access to health care and childcare in this country. And the data backs this up. I remember there was a survey last year, I think, from Courts at Work, that found that 40 percent of women who sought abortions cited financial reasons as a factor. So, huge socio-economic concern, as a driver of decisions to participate in the labor force. Not to mention when you consider things like the time and money required to cross state lines for medical services and the disproportionate effect that this has on communities of color who, due to many structural reasons, often may have inadequate health coverage and insurance that could be contributing to unplanned pregnancies. So it’s a critical issue for equitable economic advancement, and a critical issue in which employers have a huge role, as we’ve started to talk about.

Two-thirds of college-educated workers said that they wouldn’t take a job in a state that had an abortion ban, and almost half said they would move if the state was rolling things out. And this was over a year ago, and I’m curious to see now how that actually has played out, right? It goes beyond employers. So those planning to enroll in an undergrad program, 39 percent said that the overturn was a factor in their decision to attend or stay in school. I’ll pause here. But for me, that’s massive, right? You think about the ramifications of this on education and on the workforce, it’s very hard to deny the linkage there. And I think when you play this out a couple years, you play this out, choices around where to go to school, if to go to school, where to live, they have just huge economic impact. So that’s the linkage as we see it, both in terms of economic advancement and the role that employers really can be doing mitigating the fallout from this decision.

Creary: Yeah. Very compelling. I don’t know if your organization or any organizations that you know of are actually doing the research to track this over time. We all know, here at the Wharton School as well — many of our institutions these days, right— it’s like, “What’s the data say?” And you all have done such a fantastic job of giving us the data, in addition to sharing your broad insights on these topics as well, and your perspectives. I think what will be especially compelling and important over time is that we have this longitudinal understanding of how not just one year later, what the implications are, but the larger fallout. Because these become the basis for other legislative opportunities and changes as well.

So Jen, continuing this theme, I can imagine that businesses and employers more broadly might be struggling to understand their place in this conversation about reproductive rights. I mean, I think we all know, and many of the people who are listening to this podcast understand that, you know, businesses always have somewhat of a tense of precarious understanding of its relationship to broader societal issues and concerns. We also know— and I also experience this personally and professionally— that when the decision came out, there weren’t a lot, immediately, of employers who wanted to get on camera or to be recorded saying what they were doing on this topic. So to the extent that reproductive rights felt especially taboo, I know that was felt. I know even myself, as a diversity scholar, I was trying to figure out, what is the right way to talk about this conversation? How does this relate to the topics I normally talk about around diversity? And so I’ve used opportunities to engage with people who have your backgrounds and some of you individually to upskill myself.

That said, I can imagine, Jen, that there are still businesses and employers who are still struggling to understand their place in this conversation. So how have you been helping them to make sense of their roles and responsibilities on this topic?

Stark: I think that is the cornerstone question here, Stephanie. And I appreciate all the research and stats that Bobbi and Megha have brought in so far. If I had to put it on a bumper sticker for business right now, I’d say “The sidelines are no longer the middle ground.” This issue is literally showing up on the doorsteps of companies. Nearly 60 percent of women of reproductive health age live in a state hostile to abortion access. And as mentioned, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research citing the existing costs of restrictions in terms of labor force, impact, and earnings, is conservatively over $100 billion annually, and new research will be coming out in the coming weeks.

And now, without Roe setting some kind of Constitutional floor, if you will, companies are having to mind what I’ll call the “collateral damage” of abortion restrictions, in a way that they haven’t had to, historically. So speaking of data, BSR recently commissioned some polling from Morning Consult that affirms — and this is for the second year in a row, and I appreciate the academic research expertise on this call as well, and we’ll continue to do this so that we start to get some longitudinal data — this research affirms that by a two to one margin, workers across all demographics, educational levels, income levels, et cetera — want to live in a state where abortion is legal and accessible. Folks already mentioned the new data coming out about prospective and current college student preferences, and I do think higher education is such an important economic driver in states, and I think part of the hidden costs of state restrictions that folks will come to realize, perhaps a bit late. And I think Bobbi mentioned at the outset — I think it was on PBS News Hour a few days ago. They did this incredibly compelling segment on OB/GYNs in Idaho who are leaving the state en masse. And hospitals are closing their maternity wards because of the state’s abortion ban, and the ambiguity around what care that they can provide. One of the physicians who left Idaho said something like, “Do I have to wait ‘til I need to perform CPR? Do I have to wait ‘til she bleeds out?” There’s little a company can do to make up for a health care desert in a state without engaging in some of the structural issues.

So on that note, I think it was notable and watershed, how companies are finding ways to speak out through industry groups like how biotech and pharmaceutical associations signed recent amicus briefs to the courts when a judge in Texas was willing to sort of throw chaos into the gold standard FDA regulatory process to enact his own agenda to try to ban one of the drugs used in medication abortion in the U.S. We are hearing about companies considering travel policies that restrict hosting events in places where abortion’s illegal, or where their workers may be unsafe and unable to access emergency care if they need it. I think increased restrictions are also prompting new questions relevant in the long-term to corporate site selection, whether that’s office location, warehousing, other types of footprint business might have. I do think site selection is the new “boycott”, if you will.

Finally, I think companies are increasingly cognizant and actions are starting to be taken behind the scenes to minimize or at least consider the harm when it comes to data collection and storage. And I’m not talking just about tech companies. Also financial services companies and retailers who realize they need to mine the unintended consequences of the information they have on users and consumers in this mine field of state-by-state public policies where abortion may be illegal in one place and legal in another. And you have policies that seek to criminalize anyone who “aids and abets.” And this isn’t some, you know, dystopian novel or movie. This is the state of America in 2023. So I’d say, even if there’s not always a press release about a particular company’s stance or policy, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.

How Companies Can Support Women’s Reproductive Rights

Creary: Absolutely. Absolutely. Bobbi, you’ve already covered some of this, but I just wanted to give you the chance to say more. And then to begin to offer some recommendations. We’ve spent some time talking about all the issues and the challenges. But first, what I’d like to hear you share more about is, this is a topic which is important to you. You said it personally, it felt important. Professionally, it felt related to the research that you do on issues of gender and diversity broadly in the workplace, and how that affects careers. You’re also an educator, right? You teach students in a higher education setting. I would love to hear more about the links that you draw to the meaningfulness of this topic, to the education setting. And then if you want to begin to kick us off by offering what you see as the way forward in the different spheres we’ve touched, that would be great.

Thomason: Sounds great. So let me start off addressing how I’m thinking about this as a scholar and an educator. The first is that in the follow up to that MIT Sloan article, several of us are working on empirical projects. We clearly, as a team of scholars, care about this issue and want to understand it more. And so based on some pretesting and recent data we’ve collected, what we’re seeing is that job seekers care very much about having access to abortion and reproductive care. So when we ask individuals to prioritize factors of a job, abortion access is in the top few items. And Megha mentioned the survey that came out a year ago, showing that job seekers don’t want to move to a state where abortion is illegal or restricted. Very consistent with those findings. And we are in the midst of ongoing data collection. And so I will look forward to having more to say as we further unpack the data. But for now, I feel quite confident between the pretesting I’ve been doing with my collaborators, and surveys that have come out before, that this really is something that job seekers care about. And it is a priority for them.

As Stephanie mentioned, I’m also an educator. I have students that I talk to about their career choices. And even my past students, it’s been many years since I was at Wharton. But I keep in touch with those students. And as I opened saying, I increasingly am thinking about the ways in which life happens along the way of us pursuing our careers. And so it is something I have, in recent years, become very proactive in talking about with my students. That I really encourage them, starting in the content of my class, to think about, what is the life you want to be leading holistically? What are your values? Where do you find joy, and how is that going to be a part of the job and career decisions you make?

And so it’s very sobering, realizing in the past year that I am now including in that conversation, where are you going to feel safe? Where can you get the health care that you need? Or by default, where is your partner going to feel safe? Is this a place where they can live with you? And that is a conversation I am having with students, with past students, and with my friends and peers. The conversations with my students are frankly not that different from conversations I have with friends and peers, that I am watching multiple people move and take new positions because overnight, the place that they lived was no longer safe for them and their family.

Creary: Yeah. Very sobering. Thank you for your recommendations, and I think for keeping it very close to home. I think personally and professionally, again, because you and I come from the same field and we share the same background and we study similar things, every time I hear you talk, it feels like you are talking straight to me. And I’m sure other people listening will feel that as well, so thank you so much, Bobbi.

Megha, let’s turn to you. When you think about all the spaces you touch, what recommendations do you have for the people in them?

Rizoli: So, I do want to highlight, there’s a bright spot here. We have seen more work and more — I mean, Jen, you laid out with Don’t Ban Equality, 800 companies have signed on. It’s just incredible work that you all are leading and doing. And there’s a lot of great momentum from employers. But I will say, you know, many workers aren’t satisfied, still. Right? So one month after the decision, less than 10 percent of companies had made a public statement. And though many more have taken action now, there’s a recent survey from Catalyst that say 44 percent of workers want to see their employers doing more to ensure abortion access, and half of younger employees don’t think their companies are doing enough. And it goes so far to even characterize some employers’ responses as performative, without real substance. And those are not my words, necessarily.

But I guess my call-to-action recommendation is to employers, you have to listen to your talent. Listen to your employees. Talent is the driver of growth and innovation for companies. And Bobbi, your research says it. They want and deserve workplaces that prioritize their well-being and their psychological and physical safety, the quality of their experiences, the ability to advance and learn and develop and grow and build careers that serve them holistically in all aspects of their life. So that would be a recommendation, you have to turn inward. This isn’t about a statement you put out. This isn’t about, you know, a PR campaign. This is about the work. And the work of making your workplace one that all employees can thrive in.

And then you talked about the work that we touch. We also touch work with employees. And I guess a call to action for employees would be, ask more. Right? You should be voicing your opinions and encouraging leadership to make changes. And I love seeing the data and the stats about how people are voting with their feet, so to speak. Where they’re going to go to school, where they’re going to work. It’s troubling when you think about the long-term impacts, but it’s also a mover for this. And so of course there have to be psychologically safe avenues to do this in the workplace. But I think worker voice, and employees using their voice to really drive organizational behavior change is critical, especially at a time where we are only going to be seeing more and more social and political issues colliding with business. So those would be two call the actions. Listen to your employees, use your voice. They go really well together.

Creary: Absolutely. Thank you, Megha, for offering all of your insights today, and for those very concrete recommendations. Jen, we’ll close out recommendations with you. What do you think, from the standpoint of the employers who you work with? Or if you wanted to give recommendations for individual employees, what do you think they should do more of or do differently going forward?

Stark: Yeah. I just want to touch back on that last question really quickly, when you talk about other collateral damage and impact that employers and companies need to be cognizant of. When access to abortion and reproduction health care providers go away or become severely restricted, it also impacts the availability of LGBTQ-inclusive care in a geography, and the availability of IVF and artificial reproductive technologies. So again, there is all this secondary and tertiary fallout, that again, folks are just beginning to understand and that employers are realizing that they’re also left to have to navigate as well.

Circling back to this question on what employers need to do more of, or do differently going forward— there’s not enough bus, plane, or train tickets that a company can help subsidize or provide to help workers get the care that they need, even if they’ve done what they can to pull that level of toggling their benefits, and maybe are trying to mind, are they offering their benefits in the most inclusive and accessible way? It’s long overdue. And circling back to something that Bobbi said at the outset, it’s long overdue that companies align their corporate, political giving with other stated commitments, as well as the operational risks. So, you know, the collateral damage of supporting elected officials hell-bent on banning abortion just doesn’t make sense and is bad for state business climates.

It’s interesting to note that after environment and climate concerns, political giving alignment had the second most shareholder resolutions so far this proxy season. So there’s a proof point that investors are concerned about the risks operational, reputational, and beyond, as well. I’ll call out Rhia Ventures as leading some important investor engagement work in this space. Also, there’s some data points that 2/3 of college educated workers say contributions to candidates or elected officials who support banning abortion would make them feel less positively about their company, if their company was contributing to these elected officials and they understood that, and that information was readily available to them. So I just thought that was an interesting data point, and really also brings back to the point Megha raised about how it’s a combination of employers and worker voice that needs to hit a critical mass here to bring about the structural change that we need.

Creary: Absolutely. Well, this has certainly been, I think for me, a very inspiring conversation on many levels. And I think what I find inspiring about it is the work that you all are doing. And that the work that you’re doing is not only data-driven, but it’s real and authentic, and it’s based on people’s lived, daily experiences and stories that we can all get behind. I find as a scientist and as an educator, people come to understand issues and topics and whether or not they should jump into it or jump out of them based on our ability to appeal to their senses. And so we know that some people need the facts and the figures. And you all have done an amazing job just helping us understand the magnitude of the problem, but also the opportunity here.

But I think, also, people need to see themselves in it. Right? See how this might affect them personally. And so I just want to thank you for offering what I feel is a very balanced perspective, data-wise, both with numbers, and in terms of qualitative stories on this topic. So thank you, Bobbie, Megha, and Jen, for joining us today. Thanks for sharing all of your insights and your expertise. I truly, truly appreciate you for being here with me in conversation. And I want to thank all of our listeners for joining us, and for listening to this episode of the Knowledge at Wharton Leading Diversity at Work podcast series. Goodbye for now.