“We’re in a time of pushback against women’s rights all over the world. But we stand up and we stand strong. We have the power of many and of justice, and we will not go backwards.”
Last week, more than 8,000 women and men from around the globe convened in Vancouver for Women Deliver, the world’s largest international women’s health and rights conference. For those of us in the United States, these words from Women Deliver’s president, Katja Iversen, are especially resonant, as women’s fundamental right to health care faces an unprecedented level of attack.
Over the past few months, nine state legislatures—from Georgia to Ohio—have passed bills to place sharp limits on access to reproductive health care, including abortion services, or to ban abortion almost entirely, as seen in Alabama. In this time of pushback against women’s reproductive rights, the public is standing up and standing strong.
The business community is also taking a stance.
On Monday, CEOs from more than 180 companies, representing over 100,000 workers, united under the banner #DontBanEquality to publish a full-page ad in The New York Times that stated:
“Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers. Simply put, it goes against our values and is bad for business.”
The number of signers has since grown to more than 300, including CEOs of companies ranging from Bloomberg LP and H&M to Ben & Jerry’s and Square. In the statement, they made clear the business case on why restricting women’s access to reproductive care harms their businesses: “It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across the states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.”
Given the deeply polarized debate over this issue in the United States, it may seem safer for companies to stay silent on abortion legislation. Several hundred companies have concluded that they need to speak out to stay consistent on their commitments to gender equality and support for women’s health. In fact, women’s workplace participation has come about, in large part, because of their ability to decide for themselves when to have children.
We believe that the best way to achieve true equality is to have autonomy over our own bodies. Today, we are proud to join 175+ companies in the @nytimes to support reproductive freedom & abortion access. #DontBanEquality pic.twitter.com/EmwqTVtLHt— The Wing (@the_wing) June 10, 2019
Monday’s letter was not the only move from business on the recent abortion bans. In response to a law signed by the Georgia governor that could ban abortions as early as six weeks, entertainment companies, including Netflix, Disney, and WarnerMedia, threatened to abandon operations in the state. “We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer. The film industry, which contributed US$9.5 billion to Georgia’s economy last year, is not alone in using its economic leverage in an attempt to sway policymakers.
This is the latest example of CEOs and companies taking a stand and leveraging their public platform to advance an issue important to them, their employees, and customers. In recent years, CEO activism has become the norm—with business leaders speaking up on previously controversial topics such as immigration, LGBTQI+ rights, and gun control. However, until recently it seemed that being vocal on women’s rights was off-limits.
At BSR, we are proud to work with member companies of all industries to promote women’s empowerment—in the workplace and beyond. Without access to reproductive health services, including abortion, women’s economic empowerment can only go so far. The business leaders who have joined #DontBanEquality understand this—and we need more leadership to step up and do the same.