Reproductive health is a business issue

By Lisa Hammann

Women now make up more than half of the U.S. workforce, from the frontline to the C-suite, and they care about having access to reproductive healthcare, including access to abortion. In fact, more than 80% of women expect their employers to provide this type of insurance, and many will not move for a job to a state where reproductive health services are restricted.

There is no question that comprehensive reproductive health benefits are clearly a business issue. Attraction and retention of talent–a known business driver–is connected to the availability of this coverage, as found in our new report: Hidden Value: The Business Case for Reproductive Health.

This isn’t someone else’s issue, this is everyone’s issue. And there is no question that it influences the career paths women take. As many as 99% of all women under the age of 45 have used contraception, and one in four women will have had an abortion. Nearly nine out of 10 women surveyed believe that the ability to control when and if to have children is critical to their careers. As business leaders, we need to consider this in our policies because it impacts our bottom line.

A majority of the women we surveyed told us that they would be discouraged from applying for a job in a state that had tried to restrict abortion, and over half of the men between the ages of 18 and 44 said the same. Furthermore, 56% of women said that they would not even consider applying to a job in a state where abortion had been banned. Given today’s incredibly low unemployment rates, this is a talent attraction issue. As executives, we must consider where and how we do business to attract the best of the best.

Despite these statistics, most people don’t seem to know what reproductive health services their employer’s insurance plans cover. From the 50 benefit managers we interviewed for Hidden Value to many of the people I’ve informally surveyed in the last several months–a group that includes CEOs and other executives as well as those in mid-management–there was a lack of knowledge.

On the one hand, I understand this. I certainly don’t know what my specific coverage is for many health conditions that I haven’t yet encountered. But reproductive healthcare is used by nearly every member of the workforce, and at least more than half of them care a great deal about it. If executives don’t know which services their benefits cover, some corporations may be unintentionally limiting some contraceptive options and coverage for abortion. These limits lead to a loss of talent.

Companies large and small can gain a competitive edge by reviewing their benefits to ensure they are comprehensive, closing any loopholes, and communicating any changes to employees. This should be done while keeping in mind variations between state laws that may make it harder for women to access contraception and abortion. For example, some companies we’ve spoken to are making provisions to reimburse employees who must travel unreasonable distances to access the services that they need.

Corporate board members and investors also have a role to play. They should ask companies about their approach to reproductive health benefits as part of their due diligence and push them to audit the relevant policies. Investors can exert additional influence by voting in favor of proxy proposals that support the expansion of these benefits.

The corporate community must also let policymakers know that access to comprehensive reproductive health care impacts the companies doing business in their states. Comprehensive benefits are a health issue and a business issue.

Companies can no longer afford to remain on the sidelines.

As an executive at Genentech, I was part of many discussions about regrettable losses, talent pipeline strategies and long-term incentives for high potential employees. I know what is best for employees is a powerful clarifying concept for executive decision-makers because great companies realize that great talent is a direct asset to their bottom line. Talent matters to business, and reproductive healthcare matters to talent. The case is clear and the decisions are not difficult.

In a few years, it will be obvious which companies have made the decision to support their workforce and provide them with the benefits they want and need. And I can’t wait to see all that these companies–and the talent they have attracted and retained–have accomplished as a result.


Lisa Hammann is CEO of Rhia Ventures, a social investment company that invests in organizations that are breaking ground in the areas of contraception and maternal health. Hammann is a former Genentech senior executive.

 

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