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This episode was originally recorded as an Advocacy in Action session and features a conversation between Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP) Executive Director Sylvia Ghazarian and JBC Vice President Adrienne Lawrence. Discover how reproductive health is a business issue that will impact an organization’s bottom line, how a number of organizations are approaching this issue in the current climate, and what tools are available to inclusively support women and birthing people in the workplace.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Somebody has to speak out. Silence is complacency. It doesn’t follow the guidelines of a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. You must speak out. And when I look at the analysis and the data out there, most of the workforce is women. However, those in the C-suite or on boards are mainly men and we need more of these male allies to come forth and to stand for those who need our support. And you must have a voice in what’s going on.
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DOUG FORESTA: The Will To Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore, more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies. She and her team advised top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty.
And now onto the episode.
Hello and welcome back to the World To Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode was originally recorded as an advocacy and action session and features a conversation between JBC vice president, Adrienne Lawrence, and Sylvia Ghazarian, the executive director of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, as they discuss how reproductive health is a business issue that impacts organization’s bottom lines, how a number of organizations are approaching this issue in the current climate and what tools are available to inclusively support women and birthing people in the workplace, all this and more. And now, onto the episode.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Jennifer Brown Consulting is very excited to be partnering with Sylvia Ghazarian. She is the executive director at the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project who will be providing us with insight today and also is our partner here. And so I’d love to first have this disclaimer as we enter this conversation.
Please know, we’re not talking about when life begins, values, morality, anything of a like. Rather, this conversation is about the business impact of reproductive health as it concerns DEI. And now, I want to turn it over to Sylvia to please share with us what WRRAP is about.
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Thank you so much, Adrienne. I first wanted to first thank Jennifer Brown Consulting and Adrienne Lawrence for reaching out to us and for recognizing the importance and impact the imminent decision on Roe we’ll have on our fundamental human right. We are the largest national independent 501(c)(3) abortion fund. We fund both medical and surgical abortions in all 50 states and DC. And we work with a network of over 700 clinics, doctors and hospitals.
As you can imagine, we are and have been working under crisis mode for years with the avalanche of Roe falling, hitting home in the most recent weeks from the SCOTUS leaked draft opinion. Joyce Schorr started WRRAP over 30 years ago to ensure all financially disadvantaged individuals can have access to abortion care. WRRAP knows communities best because we are doing the hard work within communities each day. And we see firsthand the mental, physical, emotional, and economic impact abortion bans are having on pregnant people.
As you also may know, every reproductive decision, not just abortion, needs to be safe, attainable and affordable for everyone no matter their identity, circumstance, or location, which is why it’s important to have workplaces inclusively approach repro health to eliminate systematic barriers and embrace unique identities, perspectives, and fair treatment of all people. Thank you.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Thank you so much, Sylvia. We really appreciate your partnership as well as all of the work you do. And let’s go ahead and start with our conversation today, as far as it concerns why we’re here. So we’re here because reproductive health is a business issue. Again, we’re not here to talk morality or any of the other extraneous issues. We’re here to talk business and the impact that reproductive health and the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade has on your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
A lot of people fail to see this, but there are businesses out there and also DEI advocates and practitioners who do see that this is an intersection and a huge impactful aspect of DEI. And so if you do have a commitment through your organization in any way to promote DEI, then reproductive health should be something that you are paying attention to and keeping your finger on the pulse.
Also, this is an opportunity to further workplace inclusivity because as we will discuss, this is an issue of inclusivity and ensuring that more than half of the population in the workforce has the opportunity to stay in the workforce and not suffer inequities and are not derailed in career trajectory or not able to perform to their fullest potential in the workplace.
So as Sylvia had mentioned, there is a current climate going on right now in the United States. The states of reproductive health, there’s risk to it. We found this out earlier this month when the Supreme Court confirmed that there was a leak of a draft of an opinion in a case challenging Roe v. Wade. And in that draft opinion, there was clear indication that it would be reversed. And as a result of that, and also being a lawyer myself, I can tell you that that draft opinion gave plenty of indicia there, that there will be trouble out there in the event of Roe v. Wade being reversed and how it will be done.
It could impact birth control, IVF, so on and so forth. And there are a number of states because again, if Roe v. Wade is reversed, it means that states get to decide. There are a number of states in the process of ensuring that abortions are banned. And so this is what we know, that if there is no Roe, then there is expected to have at least 26 states banning abortion. And that will impact 52.2% of women of child bearing age.
When I say that, I’m referring to the majority of women ages 15 to 44. That is a large segment of the workforce and entering workforce to be mindful of. And so what we know is that when Roe, or if Roe is reversed, that the trigger laws, those are laws already set up to automatically go into effect, meaning they’ll immediately ban abortion in their states. That’s going to impact 21% of those women, 21%. And that will be 13.7 million.
And there are other restrictive laws set in those states to take effect. That’s about 31% there, of that which is 19.8 million. And when I say that in terms of other restrictive laws, what I’m talking about is states with near total abortion bans on the books. They might have 6-week bans, 15-week bans, or other bans passed in some way that impact Roe before it took effect.
And then there are states with broad access to abortion for now, and that’s about 48% impact there. And that is about 30.8 million women. And we need to be mindful of this because what we do know is that one in four women will have an abortion at some point, whether it’s an unplanned pregnancy or a planned pregnancy that ends up threatening the life of the mother or the life of the child.
Also, this includes fertility treatments. There are a lot of things tied up when we talk abortion and it’s something we want to be mindful of because again, one in four women. And we’re seeing the states where we know there is abortion being protected or access expanded. There are fewer than there are states where there are limitations. And here is a map provided for this by the Center for Reproductive Justice. Showing where it’s protected, that’s in the yellow. Where it’s protected and access is expanded, is in the teal color there.
And that might be by way of a Supreme Court ruling saying that abortion is a fundamental right and is interpreted into the constitution, or there’s actually a constitution amendment where it is protected such as New York. And those states where abortion is hostile, or it’s not protected, that is here. And so what we’re seeing is that there are considerable limitations out there for abortion. And this is something that businesses are paying attention to, particularly businesses that are operating or have a number of employees operating within these states here.
And those businesses recognize the impact and they are knowing that this is a business issue. They are acting. They’re bracing for the end of Roe and there’s a reason for that. When it comes to the economics, what we know from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research is that with even existing restrictions, we’re seeing $105 billion in annual economic loss, $105 billion every year lost when it comes to the existing restrictions and how they impact our workforce.
There is no doubt that this is a business issue. And so there have been several early actors who have gotten out in front of it. Companies that are covering abortions or providing some kind of safety, reimbursement, travel, all sorts of options, benefits, and opportunities, providing employees. Amazon, Yelp, Levi, Microsoft, Apple, City Group, Starbucks, Salesforce, Match, OkCupid. And companies like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase are reportedly considering joining the crowd and also Bank of America.
And the thing is there are companies out there who are still seeing this as simply maybe a moral issue, a divisive issue. And the reality is it is not. It is a business issue, and it’s such a business issue that shareholders have been pushing back. Shareholders have been submitting proposals that have become increasingly popular in terms of a tactic. And this is in the last three years.
So this is before the May league of the Supreme Court draft opinion. Shareholders were already pushing companies to provide abortion related coverage care, health, medical, because they know that this is something that will impact workforce and thus, impact the business significantly. And so what we want to be mindful of, if we are a part of organizations or business, is knowing that this is a topic that is one being discussed because it impacts economics and business when we talk about prosperity.
Shareholders are aware of it and they’re demanding companies do something, which is also why you are seeing early actors get out in front of it. And what we also know is that there should be no fear about consumers. Mike Toffel, he is a Harvard business school professor. He spent years tracking CEO activism. And what he says based on his research is that there is very little evidence that an anti-Roe consumer would stop consuming a product from a company simply because that company is extending its health benefits in favor of abortion or creating opportunities for its employees to access abortion.
So it will not impact how consumers do business with you. But one thing we do know, it will impact how employees engage with that company. Employees are more likely to pay attention to when companies stand up for them, when companies do what’s right in terms of DEI and inclusivity. We’ve known that for a long time. And the thing is is that it intersects with abortion.
When we’re talking about companies and employees and the relationships there, we know that abortion touches on this DEI issue. It’s about commitment here. Fundamentally, what we know is that inclusion, it’s about everyone having that equitable access to opportunities to truly having that root to success in the workplace. And in the case of reproductive health, what we’re talking about is about 52% of the workforce, the population being put in a position where it could now face greater challenges to be able to fully participate in the workforce. And that impacts equity.
And so companies that say that they have a DEI commitment, they should be acting and they should be acting swiftly because this is affecting their population and their workforce. And in order for an organization that does say it has DEI commitment, it needs to provide that equitable environment and also its values. And so it cannot necessarily stand idly by. Instead of realizing that there is potential legislation or court opinion that will limit the bodily autonomy and what many say, which is that it is a human rights issue in terms of deciding how to expand your family, whether to, or if not.
And so realizing that, we have to be mindful of our DEI commitment and as well the fact that abortion is part of that and ensuring that there is some pushback and also involvement and engagement with confronting this issue. We also need to be mindful of the fact that this is going to impact performance when it comes to mental, emotional, physical. We know that women who are denied abortions face dire and well documented, mental, emotional, physical challenges, and consequences. This impacts opportunities to succeed, inclusivity, the ability to perform fully at your workplace to be at optimal levels of performance.
And we know that when women are turned away from clinics, we also see that financial impact. There is a climb in debt by 78%. That’s averaging in about $1,750 a year. And also research shows that those women who are turned away from clinics where they seek abortions also experience about 81% more of the negative effects financially. We’re talking bankruptcies, tax liens, evictions.
Also, the career trajectory, potential to be removed from the workforce. Women face the fact that they also bear a disproportionate amount and share of childcare responsibilities. As a result of that, that means that repealing Roe would only exacerbate that. And as a result, women will end up being pushed out of the workforce because of childcare opportunities. Their career trajectory could be limited, compelling women to have children to start families, to expand families when women are primarily the ones who must maintain families means that the opportunity to be in the workforce is considerably limited.
And so that opportunity for equity, that opportunity as an employer to maintain diversity in the workforce, that also becomes extremely limited. When we look at racial inequities, we also know that the potential repeal of Roe means that BIPOC, black, indigenous, and people of color, will suffer the most. Foremost, people of color tend to have limited access to healthcare to begin with. It’s a disproportionate impact that happens to befall lower income workers.
And that usually is black and brown women. They’re overrepresented for lower income workers. Black and brown women are also more likely to have jobs that have that limited healthcare access where they’re not necessarily full-time employees who can access the healthcare, or maybe they’re in jobs that do not provide all that extensive healthcare, which we will talk more about later. Also, we know that they tend to have less access to effective birth control options.
So when we look at abortion restrictions, we also want to bear in mind that geography plays a role because a considerable number of non-white women are at a loss simply because of where they live. For example, per Pew Research study in 2019, found that the south is still the region where the vast majority of the black population lives in the country. 56% of black Americans are living in the south.
We also know that the south is the area where a lot of these trigger laws are already set up or even the challenge to abortion that is before the Supreme Court now with Dobbs, that’s Mississippi. And so as a result of that, we’re going to see this impact primarily women of color, women who are black and brown. And again, that means the potential of lost career trajectory, losing that potential for diversity in the workforce. Also, the opportunities for equity and for inclusion, the things that companies promote and say that they stand by.
And in that same vein, when it comes to talent, abortion restrictions, healthcare, reproductive limitations, it also curbs recruitment opportunities. Employees may not be willing to stay in a state or move to a state that restricts access to abortion. And that’s not great news for companies that are looking to hire or retain talent. And so we know that this is discouraging relocation.
There are a few studies out there. One said that two-thirds of college educated workers in the US, they said that Texas’s abortion ban known as SB 8, that it would discourage them from taking a job in Texas. And that is very impactful when it comes to bringing in business in the state. And also if you have a business that is in the state of Texas, and you’re trying to recruit people, you are going to be at a loss. And that means less diverse workforces.
That also may mean you may struggle for workers in Toto. Also, we know that working adults, there’s a two to one margin saying that they would prefer to live in a state where abortion is legal and accessible rather than a state in which it’s illegal and inaccessible. And that’s also something that means that we want companies to continue to thrive and to do well. But if people will not live in that state, it also means that they may refuse or decline working for your organization.
We also know that abortion and how reproductive health is handled, that translates to perceived working conditions. So, two-thirds of workers that were surveyed so that they presume that states that protect abortion rights are more likely to have good healthcare, good paying jobs and a higher quality of life versus those that banned and restrict abortion access.
So that speaks to whether employees again, or potential worker’s talent will even consider a job working at a company or an organization that is in a state where abortion reproductive health is banned, it’s restricted. And the thing is, we also need to bear in mind that there’s a new contract out there now. We saw that with the Great Resignation.
The fact is that talent wants a lot more. They want more of a symbiotic relationship with their employer. They want support. They want to know that it’s less of a clock in and out, but it’s more of a partnership and that we’re working together. And that requires that sense of inclusivity. And that also ties to what the organization is supporting and what it is not.
And we also look at policies and practices, and this goes to equity. We see that with abortion potentially being decided at the state level, it means that there’s limits in coverage because how states will approach abortions, and if you have an organization that operates in many different states or has employees in different states, that means also you’re going to have a patchwork of rules. And there’s going to be coverage that’s going to vary across the board. There’s not going to be consistency there.
So when it comes to employees and how they experience and care for their own health, this patchwork kind of system also means that employees or employers, businesses, organizations are going to be put at a very limited situation that is going to restrict equity opportunities for all employees across the board. And having these policies and practices be kind of hodgepodge, and we’ll have to approach it in this dynamic way, it tells you that success isn’t necessarily guaranteed, especially when it’s difficult on top of that simply to attract talent because of the states in which you may operate as an organization or as a company.
And so we have to be mindful of these things and consider what options we have. How can we bring people to the table and create a way in which reproductive health is aligned with our DEI commitment and goals. And one thing we definitely know we can do is offering employee assistance. This is what we’re seeing a lot of organizations do between covering medical expenses, relocating workers, travel costs, also paying for legal penalties.
Amazon is paying up to $4,000 for abortion procedure, travel, care. They understand it’s a business issue. We’re seeing Yelp step in, all sorts of organizations because they want to protect their workforce. And there are also very many companies saying this is a DEI issue, and we need to maintain this sense of equity in the workplace. And we do not want a segment of our population to be at a loss because of limitations to their bodily autonomy. And thus, we will step up and step in so we can continue to have this productive worker who feels that they are welcomed, valued, respected, and heard as part of this organization.
And if you have some questions or concerns about the potential for employee privacy when it comes to abortion access and providing funding for abortions in some way, a lot of companies have been able to circumvent issues with privacy. Companies approaching things like Match, for example, they’re based in Dallas or at least their parent company Tinder is.
And so what we know is that they have contacted Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles and they created a partnership there. So what they do is they arrange for travel, lodging and also the abortion procedure. And so it is handled out of the Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles. So all the employee has to do is contact the Planned Parenthood. And this is a health related issue, so it doesn’t get back to the employer so that employee’s privacy is continued to be maintained.
And we have to consider that employees every day have procedures through their healthcare provided by their employer. And it doesn’t get back to the employer. There is no privacy concerns in terms of leaks and whatnot. So we know that this can happen because abortion is healthcare, just like any other healthcare opportunity out there. And so we know that privacy can be preserved.
Also Yelp, for example, what they have done is they’re using an insurance provider to extend abortion travel coverage to employees and their dependents. So it’s about creating a fund there that’s available and just filling that fund with money. And what the insurance provider does is the employees just contact the insurance provider, just like it would in the event it needed dental work or to fix a broken bone. And Yelp simply provides the money to that fund itself.
And that is something that is very powerful that organizations can do to uplift their workers and to keep their DEI commitment. And it’s also important to reevaluate your health benefits. You’ve got to remove exclusions. A lot of people don’t know, but employers that offer health insurance are not required to pay for coverage of abortion, except for when that life of a mother is otherwise endangered or jeopardized.
So the healthcare plans policies that are provided by employers don’t necessarily have to cover abortion. Employers get to decide that. So check your policies and to see what your health benefits cover. And if you can extend that because it’s also very common that a lot of employers don’t cover it. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2019, they did an employee health benefit survey looking at more than 2,000 randomly selected private employers. And they found that there’s about only 10% of workers who work at a firm that actually excludes coverage for abortion under some or all circumstances. And while that’s only 10%, when you consider how many potential employees that can impact, that is significant.
So it’s something that you want to possibly assess because it could be just a slight change in your healthcare policy to remove those exclusions. Also, knowing it’s a benefit for potential recruitment is also something to bear in mind. When it comes to that new contract that is in effect between the employee and employer nowadays with Gen Z, millennials caring about DEI, health, benefits and opportunities that weren’t necessarily considered on the table a decade ago.
Remember that providing reproductive health options, whether it’s gender confirmation, surgeries, abortion access, IVF, all of these things are recruitment opportunities. So expanding the bandwidth of coverage options is something you can do across the board to not only provide support, but also to lean into your DEI commitment so that you are able to recruit the best talent, keep the best talent, and also ensure everyone feels welcomed, valued, respected and heard.
You also can look at paid sick days. Many of us take these for granted because we may have them. But nearly one in three private sector workers, they don’t have paid sick days. And these are key to getting abortion access. We also know that it allows for recovery in terms of spending time at home or taking care of yourself or a loved one who must get an abortion.
Having those paid sick days also, it allows for procedures because some states still have a waiting process where you have to go into an abortion provider and then you have to wait before you can have that abortion. So you may need several days. And if you only have maybe one or two abortion providers in your state, that could require travel days involved. And as a result of that, it could mean that either you have to choose between your job if you don’t have paid sick days, or being forced to have a child that you can’t necessarily take care of, or maybe that’s not particularly healthy or could possibly endanger your life. So simply providing paid sick days to your employees, it can go a long way.
And it also can help curb that racial inequity that we see when it comes to abortion. Because we know that more than half of Latino workers and about 36% of black women workers, they don’t have access to paid sick days. So it’s something that is impacting the lowest earning private sector employees, which tend to be black and brown. And we want to ensure that everybody has access to healthcare and options and opportunities and can continue to contribute to our workforce.
Also when it comes to options, consider your culpability as an organization, campaign contributions, lobbying efforts, corporate social responsibilities. What voices are you uplifting? Who are you putting into positions of power? We’ve seen this kind of unfold down in Florida with Disney and the government there. And we know how Disney for a long time, was giving campaign contributions to the GOP and now the GOP has turned on Disney because they didn’t like the stance that they took in terms of the Don’t Say Gay bill.
These things happen without a doubt, but you have to consider who are you uplifting? Who is making decisions for your state that impacts your employees because it’s more than just business when it comes to uplifting people to positions of power, that this is also about how is this going to impact your workforce. How is it going to impact potential talent and recruitment? What is this going to look like for corporate social responsibility?
We’re definitely seeing that in this social media era when a number of companies are being called out for contributing to the campaigns of certain members of Congress or certain potential individuals running for office. There is a lot of social accountability attached to that. And that is something that consumers do bear in mind when they do their consuming out there. And so you want to consider, how are you may be adding to the problem or to the issue that you’re now going to have to alleviate yourself of so that you don’t lose your workforce?
And also, definitely consider using your voice. Speak out, give donations. Partnerships like with Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles, as I’d mentioned that Tinder was doing, and move business. This is something we’ve seen all across the board with a number of companies. When Georgia’s abortion ban came out, executives from more than 180 companies including Twitter, The Body Shop, Yelp, they all signed a letter calling the restrictions bad for business.
Levi Strauss released a very strongly worded letter and took action immediately when the leaked opinion came out. There are a number of organizations that are using their voice not only because they know it’s bad for business, but they know it counters their DEI efforts. And they do not want to lose the valuable human capital that they have.
And that is effectively what would happen if you’re forcing people to give birth, if people can’t access the healthcare that they need. Also because the United States has such a high maternal mortality rate, and even right now when you consider the fact that we have what a lack of infant formula, the thing is, is our infrastructure is not supported for more infants in this world. And there aren’t sufficient social services.
And so companies understand that and they realize that. And so that they know that the safest way to go about doing this is ensuring that people aren’t forced into situations for which they don’t have the support for. And they don’t want to jeopardize their workforce. They want to have their DEI commitment uplifted and upheld.
And we also know that companies are choosing who they want to do business with in terms of states. For example, a lot of Hollywood studios, Netflix, the Walt Disney company, Warner media, they all warned the state of Georgia that if you put forth an abortion ban, we are going to move our studios elsewhere. We will not be filming there.
And the thing is, these kind of pressures have worked in past because they have options. These companies, these studios can go elsewhere and they know they bring considerable business to these states when they come and they film there. And that’s a business decision, but they realize that if that state is making a decision that will harm its workforce, then it’s not going to do business there. It is a consumer as well, and it’s going to take its business elsewhere.
And so as a company, your organization also has that power of deciding, who am I going to do business with? Who am I going to uplift in part by considering, how do they impact, how do they affect my workforce? How do they undermine my DEI commitment strategy in plan? And these are things to consider when you are using your voice.
And so let’s go ahead and move to this Q&A portion of our conversation. And so Sylvia, I’d like to welcome you back.
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Thank you.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Thank you so much. So Sylvia, I know that this has been a contentious issue. And again, we’re not discussing morality, when life begins, not at all. This is a business and a DEI issue. And so I’d like to know in terms of the organizations you’ve seen really get out there at the forefront and recognize it for what it is, what do you think it is about them that is making them step into this space?
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: The power of the employees speaking out and demanding change be made of their corporations, and how it will affect them internally and if they will stay with those companies. The DEI lens is critical. And this is a policy and procedure that many corporations have. And when employees are demanding that their employer take action, they’re looking at that policy now, and they’re saying, “Look, this is our DEI policy. You are saying that all people are equal. Each are unique individuals and we are demanding that you take the healthcare policy and analyze it.” And so we’re seeing success with that.
And it takes one company, two companies, three companies to build that village and to awaken the audience out there that this is critical for businesses and their employees. And bottom line is money, right? Those employers need those employees and their bottom line. So we’re definitely seeing a significant increase in that.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: And I find that to be very perplexing to me, how businesses are maybe reluctant to do something or say something because this does impact your workforce. The reality is that if a number of your workforce is no longer able to participate, how’s it going to impact your ability to do business? You could even look at the larger level of our GDP. And this is going to cost us and set us back significantly in terms of being able to participate as even a world force on a global level.
And so it is very disconcerting that entities aren’t necessarily seeing that. And so what do you think, because I know you said employees speaking up, but what do you think is the truly persuasive remark? Because it seems that even just hearing these basic facts doesn’t seem to necessarily resonate.
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: I think that there’s also on the corporate side from conversations I’ve had a lot of confusion about how to update and change health policies in particular. Some of the conversations that we have had have to do with HIPAA violations. From our perspective where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? So you take those things apart and you figure it out.
And you figure it out internally as well as with your healthcare provider as to how to make those changes. Is it looking at the lens of what your healthcare policy is and perhaps changing it to a different provider so that it is encompassing and having the ability for employees to have, the acts that they need and care that they need. Those are the types of things that need to be evaluated and quite quickly. We’re in crisis mode and when there’s a crisis, people tend to come to the grips as to what’s going on.
And so those changes need to happen and those actions need to happen today in order for those employees to feel comfort and to know that they have something in place at their organization. And it affects their morale and how they work for that corporation and whether they’ll be proud to work for that corporation because they know that somebody is standing behind them. And they’re right.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Absolutely. And that’s what I saw in looking at the research there, that a number of employees … Now that’s something that they remember, and that’s also something that will impact their devotion, their dedication, their loyalty to an organization of whether they feel that they are supported and valued there, which this issue here when it comes to reproductive health access, especially when it’s under attack, is a key factor in making those decisions.
Because we also, one other thing that I considered is we also have to bear in mind that a lot of individuals and entities still fail to see abortion as a healthcare issue. And they continue to see it in this moral category when that is very far from being accurate in any way but it seems to be a limitation. Do you think that that kind of thinking is also what keeps organizations from stepping out into this space?
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: It’s a huge factor. The politics needs to be taken out and everything needs to be looked at from the healthcare aspect. Just like anybody who has cancer gets cancer treatment, and that’s a healthcare issue. Abortion is a healthcare issue. And it’s normal. It’s common. It happens to one in four individuals, whatever the case may be.
So, politics and moral issues need to be put aside. And when you put your DEI lens into this factor, it’s looking at everybody as an equal, as a unique individual that needs to have whatever circumstances taken care of for them. And that’s the most critical part of this whole thing.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Absolutely. And something that you had mentioned to me earlier, which did impact me to a certain extent was the mental health aspects. Because even knowing that Roe is under attack, it felt like an attack on women or my womanhood. And this thought that my autonomy, my judgment, my ability to make decisions for myself in terms of my future is limited in some way, of course, depending on where I live and that had a toll. That played a toll on me just psychologically and feeling that it was very much a regression of the progress our society had made.
And so you had spoken to the mental health aspects. Can you do that again, please?
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Yes. We hear every day from clinics that support patients, that they have individuals who are going through pretty traumatic factors in terms of their care, meaning they don’t know like people are deciding whether to pay rent versus having abortion care. People are in a state of mind where they’re considering unfortunately suicide and we’re there to help them immediately to get them the support that they need.
These are situations that should not be happening. Everybody deserves healthcare. Everybody deserves to be treated as an equal human being. This is inhumane, what is going on and what is about to happen with. And every individual humans need to take care of humans and corporations need to take care of their employees. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories that we hear.
Like I said, we work with over 700 clinics. We have plenty volunteers who handle our hotline. And we put them on two-hour shifts because the stories that we hear each day, whether it’s a person who may become unhoused, whether it’s a person who is 13 years old and was raped, these are the circumstances that are impacting all of us. And we need to take a step back and take care of each other.
And it’s not just about taking care of those employees that work for you, but it’s also taking care of those dependents that are on that policy as well. So I want those types of things to be thought about when corporations are reanalyzing their healthcare policies.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: And so we have a question here, how do we get our organizations and CEOs to take a stand and make a statement? It can be hard to make a statement with nervous boards wanting to stay out of it. It’s been awfully quiet out there.
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Somebody has to speak out. Silence is complacency. It doesn’t follow the guidelines of a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. You must speak out. And when I look at the analysis and the data out there, most of the workforce is women. However, those in the C-suite or on boards are mainly men. And we need more of these male allies to come forth and to stand for those who need our support. And you must have a voice in what’s going on. You can’t compromise that at all because again, that silence sends the wrong message and it sends the wrong message to those employees because again, they don’t feel supported.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: No, you’re absolutely right about that. And something I’ve seen, not only just as an individual in media but also as a DEI practitioner, is seeing companies sit and wait. And then something goes down and they are on the defense, and they’re digging themselves out of a hole all of a sudden. And so it is very disheartening because it just seems unwise. Why wait when you can justify the business actions of this? And also too, are you really going to wait for shareholders to call you out? Because that’s happening, that’s happening very often.
Just I think two years ago, Pfizer had a board approval for abortion coverage access speaking out about it way before this Roe thing. And that shareholder vote was at 47%. That was several years ago. So imagine where it would be now because people understand the value of their workforce, maintaining that human capital and not jeopardizing the people, the infrastructure that keep that company afloat.
And so just getting out in front of it, it just seems wise from the jump. And it’s so unfortunate that too many companies, or the leaders in the companies, still have this idea that it’s a private matter or private thing when again it is simply healthcare. And it does have that unique status where it is unfortunately controlled by government, in part because to some extent, women are still second class citizens and thus, our bodies are not something that we can fully control.
But it definitely needs to be something that people get out ahead of. And it would just seem to be good business. But if these companies need to find out the hard way, so be it. Some of them do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. And another question we have is will women be discriminated against who get a felony charge in states that make abortion illegal? Will that limit their ability to be hired?
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: That also relates to the policies and procedures that each of the companies. When individuals normally fill out applications for employment, those types of questions are asked. So, I do think that there is a … This whole thing is having a domino effect and that’s the reality. And yes, it will impact those individuals and those policies too need to be reevaluated. It is a form of discrimination to have those types of questions asked.
If you want a diverse workforce, you need to reevaluate not just your healthcare policy, but the policies and procedures you have in play for hiring individuals at an organization. And understanding that the richness and diversity that you need as a company is far more important because you’ll have a bountiful look from different employees about different aspects, which will help your company and will help your revenue.
And people need to take a harder look at that. And internally too, people that our employees need to evaluate is who is this corporation supporting? What kinds of legislators are involved with this corporation? Because that too sends a message as well.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes, absolutely. And a lot of companies are now paying for that because people will boycott. They will stop buying your product or being involved with you if you are backing an individual on a position of power who is engaged in destructive antics. And as I mentioned before, with a situation with Disney down in Florida, seeing these companies get essentially feeding the beast and then getting bitten by it, it’s one of those things of, “Well, what did you expect to happen?” And so as far as I’m concerned, organizations need to be smarter. They actually have to …
If they’re going to say that they support DEI, then they actually need to also support members of Congress, campaigns, organizations that also support DEI because otherwise their counter principles that do not align with your purported principles will end up being your downfall or will cost you significantly. It’s essentially getting in bed or doing business with people who are dicey and no good, it will end up not ending well.
So hopefully, companies will start seeing that and making wiser decisions moving forward in terms of who they support. And something that also seems to be somewhat of amiss nowadays, in terms of people truly feeling supported in workplaces again with the reproductive health issues, is how people are almost trying to navigate this in light of potential Roe being reversed. Right now, we know that everything is still in its current state when it comes to abortion, correct?
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Yes, we are navigating a lot of individuals who need to travel out of state for their procedures. And it is difficult. Abortions don’t wait and their waiting periods, unfortunately in certain states, depending on where you are with your pregnancy, there’s also situations where people don’t understand the reality of, if you have to travel out of state, sometimes you need to have a companion with you. There’s childcare issues. Most people who have an abortion, the reality is that they already have one or two children.
So, there’s misconceptions and fake facts that are out there in making this political. When the reality is it’s just simply healthcare and we need to take care of everybody and their healthcare needs. It’s a human rights issue. Everybody deserves healthcare, everybody. And the population that we served the most, 73% are BIPOC. It shouldn’t matter what your zip code is, what position you have at a company. Everybody deserves equal care and everybody deserves the ability to be able to pay for their …
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes, absolutely. And it seems that a lot of people seem to forget the fact that there’s considerable disparity. It’s very much a reality that people will not stop having abortions. It’s just a matter of if they have safe abortions. And in situations like this where there is unequal access, where people can’t get to clinics, where they can’t get the options that they need, it’s highly likely that they’ll be in unsafe circumstances because it does become a question of even your livelihood, especially if you already have more than one child.
We’re seeing issues now where people can’t even afford groceries. We have a housing crisis. Wages haven’t increased. They’ve been stagnant for a considerable amount of time. Our society has not progressed when it comes to the individual worker and being able to sustain a livelihood, but to add more life to that and not to have the support that’s necessary to even feed your child who have an access to formula alone, it simply seems cruel.
But individuals do want to work. They want to support themselves. And they also want to work for companies that support them. So, it would seem to be very wise for companies to not just put out a statement of support as a matter of DEI, but also as a matter of workforce and simple business and doing good business.
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: I agree. And I want to talk just for a second about safety and abortions because those of us who live in this world and have lived in this world for quite some time before this leak happened, have been working on ways to be progressive in terms of what’s about to happen. And I want to talk specifically about when individuals and corporations look at their healthcare policy and safety issues. We have a pilot program now where we are funding the abortion pill by mail.
So, those individuals who can’t travel, they have that option to a certain amount of weeks obviously in their pregnancy. So we are working to fund also virtual clinics, the ability for people to hopefully be able to log on and talk to a provider and us being able to fund them as well. So we’re working in a manner where we’re trying to stay ahead of the game, but also communicating within the corporate world that look at your policies in regards to abortion. Does it cover medical as well as surgical, which means under medical, does it cover the abortion pill? Because that is a factor that is not always covered on certain plans as well.
So, I wanted to get that out there because that’s an important factor for people to consider as well.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Excellent. Thank you so much. And I know that that’s something that organizations can consider when they’re reevaluating their health benefits and the coverage and expanding it to include the pills, so many different ways that you can protect your workforce as well as truly uplift and put some force and actions behind your DEI commitment. And so I am very, very grateful that you are able to join us, Sylvia. Do you want to share with everyone what they can do in terms of supporting Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project?
SYLVIA GHAZARIAN: Yes. We are very overwhelmed in terms of the number of patients that we’re working with right now. Since SB 8 hit last year, we’ve quadrupled the amount of people that are reaching out to us. So the best way to initially help us is to give your financial donations to us. They are tax deductible. They can be sent to us at WRRAP, wrrap.org/donate. It is critical for people to understand that when we are working with patients right now, procedures that normally used to cost $500, cost a thousand dollars.
So, we’re seeing the impact every day and we’re not bowing down. We are helping these individuals each day. No matter how many calls we take from clinics, we are working to help individuals. So, the financial contributions need to come in and they need to come in, in a significant way for us to continue down this path because whatever legislation happens is not going to be immediate, and abortions don’t wait. People need to have the abortion care that they want and need when they want and need it.
So, I beg everybody to reach deep into their pockets and to give through us, because again, we are supporting people in all 50 states. And we are following all the rules, legislation that happen quickly overnight, but we are taking care of individuals and we need that help from all of you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity & Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening. And we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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