Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.
A startup founder with one office in Texas and another in a progressive Northeast city told me the cultural divide between the two widened fast during the pandemic.
“Masks in one, none in the other. Limitations on businesses in one; economy open in the other,” the founder told me. “Now this.”
The “this” is a leaked memo, first reported by Politico, that seems to confirm what has been discussed for months: The Supreme Court will likely overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision that secures the right to abortion across the United States. A 59% majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center, and nearly two-thirds of women do. But if Roe is overturned, as many as 23 US states would institute bans, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, including 13 that have so-called “trigger laws” which would immediately make abortions illegal entirely, or severely curtail them in all but the most extreme circumstances.
How are companies preparing for an overturn of Roe v. Wade?
That set off a slew of company responses. Amazon will reimburse its employees up to $4,000 of abortion-related travel expenses, according to a memo leaked to Reuters. Citi, Yelp and Uber will, too, and other financial services giants like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are considering their own policies.
To say that many of these companies’ employees could afford their own travel misses the point. These are acts of employer branding, of company leaders betting this is the bold and declarative stance that most of their current and future employees will appreciate. It’s fueling a battle between big tech companies and Republican lawmakers. Anti-abortion policymakers are threatening to test the legality of abortion travel bans, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill that would bar companies from deducting any travel-reimbursement expenses from their federal taxes.
All this makes for a thorny spot for employers, especially for tech companies that want to grow the percentage of women on their staff. Nearly one in four American women are estimated to have an abortion in her life. The number of abortions in the United States has been declining for decades, primarily due to better education and fewer overall pregnancies, but it remains a core issue for many regarding women’s health. In 2019, almost 630,000 abortions were conducted, according to the CDC.
Will tech workers move if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
Where those abortions take place would change with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and could have implications for tech employers. Before its own trigger law was passed, more than 50,000 abortions took place in 2020 in Texas, which hosts fast-growth Austin. Florida, with on-the-rise Miami, has also further curtailed abortion. These laws are especially challenging for poorer women and their families, who are least able to travel for a procedure — and so unlikely to move. Tech workers and other higher-salary professionals have considerably more options at their disposal, though. Would overturning Roe v. Wade precipitate a wave of politically inspired relocations?
It would fit a national trend. Though Americans are moving less for jobs, increasingly we do move for politics. It’s been called “The Big Sort,” and it’s one of many factors said to contribute to our nation’s era of political polarization. Redfin, the real estate brokerage, predicted that in 2022, “people will vote with their feet, moving to places that align with their politics.”
Such variety in abortion access across states could continue the trend. That goes both ways politically. According to an analysis, one in 10 people moving to Texas during the pandemic was from increasingly progressive California.
Opening that office in Texas or Florida for the warm weather and low income taxes will increasingly come with polarizing consequences. Those states are also at the vanguard of climate change resistance and anti-abortion sentiment.
How can tech companies respond to Roe v. Wade?
What is an employer to do?
If abortion access is especially important to your company, make that clear. If this isn’t a key issue, it may still be important enough of a national conversation to acknowledge it with your staff. You may still want to send a message that conveys leadership is monitoring how changing legislation could impact your employees’ lives.
Longer term, for some, this may be another point for remote work. Last year, music streaming service Spotify announced its Work from Anywhere initiative. Last week Airbnb followed suit. Clearly neither were primarily designed to avoid the polarizing dynamics of where employees live, but it may allow them to avoid these messy politics. What about the rest? US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the idea that US states are “laboratories of democracy” — that each state ought to try new policies and whatever results in greater prosperity wins out. Demands for company activism have surged in recent years. Increasingly, individual tech workers and entrepreneurs will be forced to navigate it all.
This will prove fraught for tech hubs. Austinites often pride themselves on being a weird “blue dot,” and something important happens when states mix a range of political attitudes. Austin will endure, but The Big Sort may further spread innovation density.
That CEO with a Texas office told me the company’s leadership team initially responded to that state’s abortion trigger law with “an eye roll” because they viewed it as primarily election-year politicking. “Obviously yesterday’s news is much more troubling,” the CEO said. “I’d expect us to follow closely.”