Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaders at companies— including Yelp, Reddit, and Dick’s Sporting Goods—have issued strong statements to their employees and even increased benefits to help them access reproductive care.
But many others, including those within the start-up world I operate in, have remained completely silent. For those companies whose leaders have chosen not to speak up, employees are paying attention.
With Axios data finding that only half of surveyed businesses have addressed reproductive rights with their team since the decision and only 10% have issued or plan to issue a public statement, many leaders may think it’s too late to speak up. It’s not.
Founders speak up (or not)
As a founder, I understand the pressure to say the right thing. It can prevent leaders, especially men, who perhaps feel they lack the perspective to adequately address the issue from saying anything at all. And according to data from Zippia only 34% of US company owners or founders identify as women, which means the bulk of leaders making this decision may not say anything at all.
Saying nothing is saying something and sending a message. By addressing an issue like reproductive rights openly, leaders promote transparency throughout their workforce and give employees the clarity they seek about the company, its culture, and its future.
2 scripts to help companies talk about Roe v. Wade
I faced a similar hesitation when considering how to communicate with my team after the 2020 presidential election. I remember the relief I felt as a founder when one of our investors sent the portfolio CEOs guidance. Regardless of my views on the outcome, their note encouraged me to address my team, who I knew was looking to leadership for a message.
To acknowledge the varying impact the news could have on our team, follow this two-step process:
- Focus on the facts: The Supreme Court decision has restricted employees’ access to abortion depending on where they live. Not everyone will agree on this decision, so employees are likely experiencing a range of strong feelings. Regardless of personal stance, it’s important to encourage empathy.
- Communicate the company’s response. Companies can consider offering reproductive health benefits, family planning resources, donating to a supportive organization in the company’s name. Many leadership and human resources teams may caution action, but this is an issue where waiting for clarity won’t serve the company or employees.
Here are two script examples for leaders to communicate and inspire action:
“Due to the Supreme Court decision regarding Roe v. Wade, some of our current (and future) employees will have less access to reproductive healthcare than others. As a commitment to equitable access, those employees needing to travel more than 100 miles to obtain abortion services will now be eligible to submit their travel expenses for reimbursement.” — CEO of a medium-sized tech company
“To our US-based full-time teammates, we are prepared to ensure that you have consistent and safe access to the benefits we provide, regardless of the state in which you live. We believe you should have the right to make personal choices regarding your health and wellness, and our role is to support you in those decisions. We will provide up to $5,000 in travel expense reimbursement for you and your partner to terminate a pregnancy if you reside in a state that restricts your ability to obtain an abortion legally.
Please be mindful of what your co-workers may be feeling and, as always, treat each other with respect.”
— CEO and founder of a medium-sized e-commerce company
Open communication builds retention and attraction
Although the immediate news of this impact on reproductive health has passed, the decision will continue to impact employees and the business for years in many ways.
This legislation has sparked questions about other healthcare and family planning options like birth control and in vitro fertilization (IVF), both recognized under Roe v. Wade as fundamental rights, will be taken away as well. A bill to safeguard access to contraceptives is awaiting Senate approval as of October 2022.
These outcomes alter employees’ sense of safety and, therefore, ability to thrive. Whether someone can access the care they need might decide whether they stay at a company—employee retention is at stake. Instilling policies like the companies Airbnb and Pinterest have—which include benefits plans to cover travel, fertility benefits, paid family leave, and child care support change—might be challenging to implement at the start-up level.
But, sharing the intent around support and the progress a company makes can make a difference in retaining and attracting employees. For example, it’s been shown that women are likely to return to their companies after maternity leave if they received IVF treatment benefits. These benefits help companies attract new employees.
Even if increased benefits aren’t possible, founders must at least address their workforce or risk employees being left to create their own story on where the company stands in their support and the benefits they can expect in the future. Allowing employees to feel seen and heard will create trust that could determine if they commit to growing with your company or to look elsewhere.
Take the first step; your workforce is waiting to hear from you.
Nikki Farb is a technology advisor who invests in blockchain companies at their earliest stages. She advises SoFi and is a venture partner at Headline.