Most companies that signed the letters were midsize tech and consumer brands trying to attract younger customers and workers, says Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy at Tara Health Foundation, which engages the private sector on reproductive rights and helped organize the letters. The largest tech companies—Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft—stayed mum. “Notably silent,” Stark says.
Companies were “caught flat footed” by the threats to abortion rights. “Now they’re kind of scrambling.”
Anthony Johndrow, corporate adviser
WIRED contacted 16 tech companies with sizable Texas workforces about the law and its impact on workers. Alphabet, Amazon, Cisco, Dell, Dropbox, eBay, Indeed, Meta, Oracle, PayPal, Samsung, SpaceX, and Tesla did not respond. Intel and Microsoft declined to comment. HP Enterprise has not taken a position on the law, but the company said, “We encourage our team members to make their voices heard through advocacy and at the ballot box.” The company said its medical plans cover out-of-state medical care, including abortion.
“We’re not asking companies to weigh in on when life begins,” Stark says. “We’re simply asking for companies to understand abortion as a workforce issue that impacts worker well-being and the achievement of an individual’s full potential, and see its connection to equity issues around gender and race.” Tara Health asks companies to stop donating to anti-choice politicians and to review their benefits to mitigate the impact of abortion restrictions on their workforces.
Although the majority of Americans think abortion should be legal, a sizable minority believes the opposite. According to Pew Research, 39 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, including 37 percent of women. That’s a large group, including customers, shareholders, and employees “who are going to get really, really angry with you for taking a position,” says Paul Argenti, a Dartmouth corporate communications professor who wrote an article titled “When Should Your Company Speak Up About A Social Issue?”
But as the spate of LGBTQ corporate activism demonstrated, companies do sometimes speak up, even when it makes people mad. A 2020 George Washington University study of Fortune 500 companies proposed one reason: pressure from employee resource groups. The researchers found that in highly educated workforces, LGBTQ employees persuaded companies to take stances on their rights, even when it may have been costly to business.
Years ago, companies were reluctant to speak out on LGBTQ issues, says Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement for the investment firm Rhia Ventures, which submits shareholder resolutions supporting reproductive rights. “Part of what got them to move away from that taboo is that their employees started to speak up through LGBTQ affinity groups,” she says. “That made a huge difference because I think corporate managers realized this was not an abstract question. This has a real impact on employees.”
Employee mobilization around abortion rights has yet to reach this level. Johndrow, the reputation adviser, says his clients have not mentioned workplace organizing around the issue. “To my knowledge, and I work with a fair number of big companies, there were no groups like that,” he says. “I’m sure they’re forming now.”
They are, says Deena Fidas, managing director of the LGBTQ workplace equality nonprofit Out and Equal. Fidas is trying to apply the lessons of LGBTQ workplace organizing to reproductive health. LGBTQ pressure campaigns were decades in the making, she says, starting at a time when these workers lacked legal protections against employment discrimination. Now, Fidas works with Tara Health and other organizations to convene women’s employee resource groups and help them advocate for access to reproductive care. She says employees are starting to raise the issue as one where their employers should weigh in. “Change is definitely afoot.”