Recent years have seen the rise of the Citizen CEO taking more activist positions on societal issues, such as equality and climate change. The trashing of Roe v Wade by the US Supreme Court is set to create divisions that will put the tech sector to the test in terms of how it supports its employees - and not just in the US.
As everyone must surely by now be aware, the Supreme Court last week confirmed that the 50 year old Roe v Wade ruling was to be overturned by a majority decision - 6 to 3 - effectively removing the constitutional right to abortion for millions of women in the US, depending on the state in which they live.
While the overturning of the landmark ruling had been expected for several months, following leaks earlier this year, the announcement has still sparked outrage among so-called pro-choice campaigners and politicians and rejoicing among their so-called pro-life counterparts. The end result - a deeply divided America.
Leaders in the tech sector have stepped up to the mark, among them Salesforce, Google, Amazon and Apple, promising that they will help employees to relocate to states where abortion will remain legal. Google’s Chief People Officer Fiona Cicconi wrote to all Google employees stating:
Equity is extraordinarily important to us as a company, and we share concerns about the impact this ruling will have on people’s health, lives, and careers. We will keep working to make information on reproductive healthcare accessible across our products and continue our work to protect user privacy.
To support Googlers and their dependents, our US benefits plan and health insurance covers out-of-state medical procedures that are not available where an employee lives and works. Googlers can also apply for relocation without justification, and those overseeing this process will be aware of the situation.
Amazon, which has significant presence in Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma - all states where abortion laws are already restrictive, told its staffers last month that it will be offering $4000 in travel expenses for out-of-state medical procedures.
California, home to Silicon Valley and much of the US tech sector, will be one of the states where the striking down of Roe v Wade will not be replicated at local level. Declaring “I am pissed”, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom immediately signed a bill from the state legislature to bar Californian courts from hearing legal cases filed under other states’ abortion bans, and prohibit the enforcement of any civil judgement stemming from such laws.
But in recent years, there has been a move among some big names in the tech industry to move to the likes of Texas, lured in large part by the legislature there offering hugely attractive financial incentives.
Texas will emphatically be enforcing anti-abortion laws. It’s also not about to put up with firms based in the state that help their employees to seek an out-of-state abortion. Lawmakers there have already threatened Citigroup and Lyft with legal repercussions as a result of their offers of support for employees, warning they face “swift and decisive action” for doing so.
That’s likely to tee-up states into direct confrontation with tech firms. Back in September last year, Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff had already told Texan employees that the company would help them to move out of the state if they were concerned about Texas’ anti-abortion Senate Bill 8:
On Friday, Benioff took to Twitter to confirm that the firm would take the same stance nationally:
Salesforce has been at the forefront of taking a stand against controversial legislation, most notably standing up for its LGBTQI employees when states such as Indiana and Georgia introduced oppressive and bigoted regulations. On those occasions, the company was able to use its financial might to tell legislators that if their rules, usually couched as being in the name of religious freedom, were imposed, then Salesforce’s investment in their local economies would have to be reduced.
One thing that’s perhaps more complicated in terms of a response to this latest erosion of rights is that the way we work has changed, in large part due to COVID and the shift to remote working. As noted last week, people don’t need to make the rent in San Francisco - where they’d be under protection - but can be based pretty much anywhere. Does that make it more difficult to impost fiscal penalties on states?
There are other considerations that need to be debated by tech firms, not least how their offerings might be used. Four Democratic Senators have written to the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission asking for an investigation into data collection arguing that “individuals seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare will become particularly vulnerable to privacy harms, including through the collection and sharing of their location data.” What are tech firms ready to see their products used to support?
This isn’t the end. Not the end of the struggle for women’s healthcare rights or the assault on their basic rights. Nor is it the end for the erosion of the rights of other groups in society. Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the loudest supporters of overturning Roe v Wade, has made it clear that court decisions on same sex relationships, gay marriage and even contraception are now fair targets.
Those who oppose the status quo on such matters have undoubtedly been emboldened by the Supreme Court decision. There are going to be a lot more battles to come and the tech sector must lead the way in supporting equality and diversity. And this won’t just be the case in the US. There are supporters and proponents of rolling back societal progress all around the globe. They too are emboldened today.
Here at diginomica, diversity and inclusion has been hardwired into our corporate DNA since we launched over nine years ago. Check out this from Phil Wainewright as the lodestone on which we are built. He said at the time:
We believe the topic of diversity is relevant to the emerging digital enterprise because it reflects how technology is changing the way people work and live.
This remains the position today and will be the position going forward.