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  • Writer's pictureAmy Woolf

Where Roe Ends and The Gender Pay Gap Widens

The news banner appeared on my phone as I was waiting for a meeting to start. I felt my stomach lurch, inhaled sharply and consciously had to reset before clicking “join” on my Teams app. I was devastated. It didn’t matter how much I had prepared myself that this might happen, the result rendered me speechless.

The term “Pro-Life” has always baffled me. How can you claim you are pro-life when safe medical abortions often save the lives of the people who have them? How can you claim that you are pro-life when you’d let a woman die rather than terminate a pregnancy? What does pro-life mean if you would choose to force a parent to carry a baby to term, when that baby could not survive outside of the womb?

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the overturning of Roe v Wade ever since the leaked documents emerged suggesting it would happen. I am distraught about what this means for women’s rights, and as a talent specialist and advocate for gender equality I’m also extremely concerned what this means for equality, the economy and the gender pay gap.

Pre pandemic, women faced a 99 year wait to reach full equality at work with men. Covid-19 increased that by almost 40 years as mothers globally became “society’s social safety net”, now there are 656,000 less women in the workforce than there were pre pandemic.

U.S. women currently make circa 83 cents for every dollar men make and that number is significantly lower amongst women of colour. What will the impact of restrictions to abortions have on women’s equality?

  1. Less Women in the Workforce: Abortion has a higher impact on the number of women in the workforce than birth control. Women adopt the majority of caregiving responsibilities in the US, which is probably why 43% of highly qualified working mothers choose to leave their careers. Not to mention the high school and university students who will have to leave education to become parents before they even start their careers.

  2. Reduced Earning Capacity: American women lose circa 37% of their earning capacity when they spend 3 years or more out of the workforce. I am not sure whether anyone has recently calculated childcare costs, you can read Caitlyn Collins' Making Motherhood Work to estimate how affordable it is to return to work while your kids are little.

  3. Talent Attraction and Retention: States that ban or restrict abortion will struggle to attract and retain talented women (and men). High performing women will undoubtably be conscious of what the state rules are and what their risks would be if they needed life saving care.

*ANSIRH Socioeconomic impact of being denied abortion

Whilst people may argue that this is all speculation, Diana Greene Foster PhD and her team followed the experiences of women for over a decade who either received abortions or who were denied them due to clinic policies. The 2022 Turnaway Study demonstrated:

  • Denying women access to abortions created long standing economic hardship and insecurity.

  • Unplanned births resulted in household poverty lasting over 4 years, relative to those who received abortions.

  • Being denied an abortion reduced a woman’s credit score, increased debt and the number of their negative public financial records, such as bankruptcies and evictions.

*ANSIRH Socioeconomic impact of being denied abortion

According to a report by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, lifting state-wide abortion restrictions would result in an estimated half million more women aged 15 – 44 in the workforce, with the ability to earn in excess of $3 billion dollars annually. Those already in the workforce would earn $101.8 billion more.

Google, Meta and Disney along with other large corporates, have offered to relocate staff to ‘safe states’ or pay for their travel for abortions (hopefully a confidential service - imagine having THAT chat). What will be left in the banned states? How will businesses with headquarters in abortion restricted states attract talented, high performing women? How will they retain them?

We do not have the answers but as you know if you’ve read anything I’ve written before, I believe in making simple recommendations. Here are a few things I think organisations can do to attract and retain talent, beyond offering a confidential health fund:

  1. Maternity return programmes. Communicate clearly how much you want to attract women of all ages who have taken time out, either before or during their careers. Support those women to have access to coaching, flexible working and stimulating work.

  2. Pay parental leave. Don’t settle for statutory. Entice women to want to return and when they do, recognise their time spent on leave. I have mentioned previously how important it is to place value on the skills parents garner during parental leave, rather than considering the time lost from the workplace.

  3. Restricted or banned abortion states will struggle with talent attraction. Offering confidential medical care out of state is helpful and of course relocation options will help too, but this will not solve the issue. The power that large corporates can have over legislation is huge. I implore business leaders to use it.

It is a very dark time for equality, and I cannot pretend to find the positive element here, however collectively we have more power than individually. It is more important now than ever to strive for gender equality at work. Whatever you have in your power to do, do it.

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