If we’re seeing more business leaders take on social issues–both within their workplaces and publicly–it’s in no small part because of pressure from customers and even employees. Even in 2019, some CEOs are reluctant to take a stand, especially on more polarizing issues, and would rather focus on their bottom line.
But the findings in a new report from advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America indicate that Americans not only want companies to speak out–they want companies to make their voices heard on the controversial subject of reproductive rights.
Of nearly 1,300 people surveyed–all of whom are full-time employees above the age of 25–about two-thirds believe women’s reproductive freedom is key to their success in the workplace, and that companies should publicly show their support for women’s reproductive rights. In fact, 60% of people surveyed said they would be more loyal to a company that helped cover prenatal care, family planning, and abortion care.
“We’ve been thinking for a long time about why, as businesses were increasingly making their values known to both their customers and their employees, there wasn’t a big effort on issues of women’s reproductive freedom,” says NARAL president Ilyse Hogue. “We knew we had to be able to demonstrate that the values that we know so many of them hold that they had not been vocal about are actually really, really consistent with mainstream and popular opinion in the U.S.”
Hogue hopes that the findings in this report, which comes at a time when abortion access is being systematically curtailed across multiple states, will make the case for why businesses should pledge their support for reproductive rights.
That extends beyond any one issue: Even a company like Netflix, which boasts generous parental leave policies, has been accused of pregnancy discrimination, and it was only recently that Rent the Runway started offering the same leave to both salaried and hourly workers.
Of course, much of the conversation around reproductive rights hinges on the hot-button issue of abortion. But the NARAL report reveals far more consensus than the politicized rhetoric around abortion may lead you to believe. Three-quarters of employees believe that abortion should be safe and legal, including 41% of workers who are against abortion personally but don’t think the government should dictate whether other women can get abortions. More than 60% of workers also believe that companies should consider access to reproductive healthcare when opening a new office or relocating, and that companies, on the whole, should work with local leaders to improve access to birth control and abortion.
“What we found is real evidence that shows these are really mainstream values,” Hogue says. “They are values that have to do with women’s access to reproductive healthcare but also values that extend to what the government’s role in personal decision making is. The cultural narrative has been sort of misinformed in thinking that this is a very divisive issue, and what’s important for companies to understand is that’s not in fact true.”
NARAL is working with businesses both to show them why taking a stance on reproductive rights is important and to help provide educational resources and services to their employees. Hogue stresses that, as with other issues the business sector has tackled, reproductive rights and freedom shouldn’t be politicized in the first place.
“They are issues of fundamental personal decision making, human rights, and access to healthcare–and those are just not political issues in most people’s mind,” she says. “There has been a carefully orchestrated campaign to make them appear political. But I think opening up the conversation with the business sector is proving, through research like this, that it’s not.”