The Supreme Court’s ruling Friday overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion puts unprecedented pressure on businesses to lead in reproductive rights, similar to how they’ve had to step up on mental health, caregiving, and racial justice in earnest over the past few years.
As companies prepare to navigate a post-Roe America, we talked to experts who have studied corporate action on societal issues about what comes next. Here is the reaction of Alison Taylor, executive director of NYU Stern’s Ethical Systems, who's writing a book on how business can do the right thing in a turbulent world:
[Companies should] listen and be consultative but never suggest that the organization is going to make democratic decisions or take a vote on every contentious issue. That's a recipe for endless conflict and turmoil, and the reality is that companies aren't democracies, and their employees aren't the electorate.
Ideally, a company should FIRST have a collaborative and open process to develop organizational purpose and values, and then use these values as a guide for how to act in future. Once that purpose and values are developed, they should be a North Star for decisions over contentious issues like this. Those values should be signaled clearly so it is clear what the organization stands for. I also think it is extremely important for leaders to explain decisions and the thinking behind them, as it will then be easier for employees to support them even if they disagree with the decision itself.
On the right to abortion specifically, I would argue that reproductive healthcare is a basic human right and also key to many companies being able to attract and retain employees. I would also argue that pluralistic, liberal values make sense for almost all Western corporations, which means respect for everyone's values and beliefs, even if they are different from yours. That would mean that anti-abortion employees would not be able to impose their views on pro-choice employees. Pro-choice employees are not seeking to impose their views on their colleagues–if you don't want reproductive healthcare, don't use it!
I think it's a good idea to seek employee feedback, but I'd take care not to do this in group settings which can encourage polarization and grandstanding.
It is perfectly fine to provide reproductive healthcare or any other benefit without also "taking a stand.” I would limit the use of corporate speaking up and CEO activism to a tiny number of business-relevant issues. Employees should be allowed, within reason (no egregious racism, etc.), to express their personal views and use their personal time and salary to support whatever causes or politicians they like.