Business Reactions to Roe v Wade Highlight Well-Intentioned but Misaligned HR Practices

HR Discussion

By Michelle Gyimah

In the face of SCOTUS overturning Roe vs Wade, companies have realised they need to act. In a world where the impact of Black Lives Matters and the ongoing global pandemic is still being felt, sitting back doing nothing has never been an option.

Very quickly the social media posts on LinkedIn started coming through. Businesses have been vocal in condemning the overturning and setting out what they’d be doing to support their employees. 

One move in particular stands out. 

Big organisations are committing to paying for out of state travel expenses for employees who require an abortion where their state does not permit it.

Behind the headlines 

At first glance, this seems like a progressive, forward thinking stance.

However, as the days have progressed I’ve begun to see this offer in a more pragmatic light. While I understand the intent behind it, I can also see the fundamental flaws behind the practicalities of it that need to be addressed and the glaringly obvious issue that’s being ignored.

Making this particular offer to employees is not entirely wrong.

But the fact that this is the first and so far only offer of support, through an HR lens, skews how effective and supportive it really is. 

There are many practical issues to consider, as well as interpersonal issues, that make this a complicated offer. Overall, while no doubt well-intentioned, the offer doesn’t truly centre women’s right to choose.

Firstly, how exactly will women access the funding to have an abortion?

Some initial thoughts spring to mind.

  • Is there a form to complete like with every other HR benefit? 
  • Do they talk to their immediate line manager or is it HR? 
  • Will they get access to the money upfront or will they be reimbursed and have to show proof of their incurred costs?
  • How long will this process take? 
  • How many people will be involved in the decision to allow this? 
  • Is there a criteria for who gets this ‘benefit’ and who doesn’t? 
  • Are the HR teams and line managers equipped to handle these sensitive conversations and the ripple effect? 
  • Does time off include after care?  If so, is this to be taken out of annual leave, sick days or is it an extra benefit?
  • Will this affect their medical insurance benefits? 
  • Is this offered only to the person requiring an abortion or is a partner/friend/family member covered to as they’ll need physical support getting there and back? 
  • What if the person has children or other dependents but no support network to care for them whilst getting their abortion, how far do employers support stretch?
  • How will the employees’ data be protected?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives a good indication into what questions organisations need to have answers to.

Workplace power dynamics

In addition to the practical aspects, power dynamics also need to be considered by employers.

For women looking to access the financial support on offer, workplace culture, discrimination and pay equity will have a profound impact.

Having an abortion can be an emotionally charged thing to do.

As a result, many do not willingly disclose this information to their employers. 

The onus is on the woman to step forward and ask for financial help amidst a potentially tumultuous personal experience. 

Furthermore, in a world that tells people to “bring their whole selves to work”, having to inform HR that they will be taking up this benefit is risky.

So how do these workplace power dynamics play out in real terms?

Evidence shows how workplaces can be toxic for women. It’s difficult  to see how these very same organsaitions can then to be trusted to handle such a sensitive issue as a woman’s right to access an abortion.

The workplace for many women is not the utopia that many HR and senior execs want to portray. 

By simply providing abortion support with no additional context, senior leaders are ignoring that many workplaces have toxic environments for women. And toxic managers and gatekeepers are happy to uphold the system.

About the Author

Michelle Gyimah is a Pay Gaps Expert and founder of Equality Pays consulting firm, Podcast Host and Financial Coach. 


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