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How Companies Can Leverage ERGs to Navigate a Post-Roe World

How Companies Can Leverage ERGs to Navigate a Post-Roe World

Since the overturn of Roe vs Wade, another systemic barrier was erected, and women need a safe and welcoming community more than ever. This is where ERGs can help.

On June 24, when Dobbs vs Jackson overturned Roe vs Wade, 26 states were likely to ban most or all abortion, and 13 states had trigger laws go into effect. Restricting access to safe and comprehensive sexual reproductive healthcare, including abortion, threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of workers and customers.

The gender pay gap will likely widen and the policies companies are putting in place will likely not cover the most vulnerable workers . Women already make only 83 cents for every dollar a man earns, with Black and Brown women making even less.

The motherhood penalty increases the gap and could result in shrinking the talent pipeline even further. Maternal mortality rates are also the highest in states with most restrictive abortion laws.

[Related: COVID-19: A Gender-Biased Pandemic]

What is a company’s obligation?

While reproductive healthcare is a fundamental need that should be provided to all citizens, that is no longer the case. The executive order Biden issued on July 8, 2022 is still vague and mostly focuses on medicine and emergency contraception. As a result, companies and organizations are now finding themselves as the backstop for their employees to receive safe care.

“From gender equality to LGBTQ rights to racial justice, companies are starting to realize the importance of being more externally facing about why this issue matters to them and how it impacts not only their business, but also their consumers and communities. A lot of brands are really looking to be authentic in that way, so this is not just a one-off moment that they respond to,” Nadia Khamis, Director of Corporate Engagement at Planned Parenthood.

Numerous companies have pledged to update their policies to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare, from including it in the current company-sponsored health plans to creating an employee fund or reimbursing expenses. This is a great start, but unfortunately, it may not be that simple to execute given state specific regulations, as well as HIPPA and ERISA considerations.

Other companies have gone even further and will pay for bail of peaceful protests (Patagonia) or relocation to a reproductive-friendly state (Google, Salesforce). Lyft and Uber have said they will pay legal fees for drivers if sued for helping women obtain safe abortion. Lyft is also working with health care providers to cover cost of rides in TX and Oklahoma.

This is likely not enough.

How can companies leverage their ERGs?

ERGs, short for Employee Resource Groups, have evolved to guide overall business goals as well as support talent management. As employers are working through the aftermath of the overturn of Roe vs Wade, companies should engage their ERGS to support employees’ wellbeing, physically, socially and emotionally, and leverage their ERGs to better understand their employees’ needs since, depending on location, they may have a critical healthcare void.

Specifically, here are six areas in which companies can leverage their existing ERGs.

[Related: DEIB: Allyship, Sponsorship, and Mentorship]

Where should ERGs start?

Be a centralized resource.

One of the most important steps ERGs can take is to offer resources to employees. While this will differ depending on company location and benefits offered, the ERG can work with human resources to compile a list of company specific benefit coverage and host “lunch and learns” to ensure employees understand the benefits and have a safe space to ask questions.

ERGs can also create a list of abortion providers and abortion funds employees can anonymously use. By providing a comprehensive offering of resources, ERGs can be a safe space employees turn to for information.

What are other ways ERGs can support employees?

1) Create a space for empathetic conversations.

It is likely that there are different views about access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare. And many employees have privacy concerns if they did choose to use their company’s policy. Therefore, ERGs can create a space to educate managers and employees about what it means and encourage differing views to participate.

This would be a great opportunity for ERGs to cross collaborate on such a session and ask ERG members to personally invite men to join the conversation. Note that there may be an additional need to create a safe space for abortion seekers independent of this forum.

2) Sponsor teach-ins.

Many organizations, like Planned Parenthood, partner with companies to help facilitate these conversations. The goal of the teach-ins is to make employees aware of their benefits, and the company’s action plan, and to share ideas about individual steps employees can initiate to protect sexual and reproductive rights for everyone.

3) Advocate internally.

ERGs can work with human resources to advocate on behalf of its members to ensure that healthcare benefits are comprehensive and there would not be backlash or retaliation for employees who utilize these benefits.

ERGs can also advocate for where the organization opens new offices and for company-sponsored events (e.g., offsite retreats, conferences, town halls) to be hosted in states that provide access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. According to research, over 50% of companies will not host company-sponsored meetings in states with anti-abortion laws.

4) Create FAQs.

During a time when many employees have questions (and organizations too), one form of communication that can be helpful is providing employees with an FAQ document.

ERGs can help in a couple of different ways. First, they can survey their members and share the results with HR leaders. In doing so, ERGs are giving employees a voice to share their questions and concerns. Secondly, ERGs could partner with HR leaders and develop an FAQ document and distribute it internally on a shared drive. The FAQ should be reviewed and updated regularly as company policies continue to evolve.

5) Get involved.

This one is a bit trickier depending on company policies, but ERG leaders (or members) could act in a personal (non-company sponsored) capacity to get folks together outside of expected work hours to write letters to Congress members in anti-abortion states, volunteer at a safe house, or canvas to get the vote out.

In summary, ERGs can do more than provide a source of support for employees; they can also serve to empower employees. Now, more than ever, companies should leverage their ERGs to help navigate the post-Roe world.

Research demonstrates the economy benefits from women having access to reproductive health. For example, Yana Rodgers, Professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, at Rutgers University, found when women have access to safe abortion services, they invest in their own education and labor force participation rates grow.

[Related: How the Post-COVID Work Revolution is Changing Office Safety]

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Lisa Kaplowitz is the executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women in Business and an assistant professor of professional practice, finance and economics for Rutgers Business School. She has 25 years of experience as an investment banker and CFO and routinely speaks on issues relating to advancing women in business. Her work has been featured on Bloomberg TV and in USA Today, Forbes, CFO Magazine and Bloomberg.com.

Kyra Leigh Sutton, Ph.D., is the research director for the Center for Women in Business and an assistant teaching professor of Human Resources Management for Rutgers – School of Management and Labor Relations. She has 16 years of experience as a HR Practitioner managing talent attraction, selection, and development. Her work has been featured in Fastcompany, SHRM, TD Magazine, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Work and Life Integration: Organizational, Cultural, and Psychological Perspectives, and Managing Human Resources for the Millennial Generation.


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