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Abortion Care Becomes Inflection Point for Employee Trust

 Pro choice protester participates in a march

Great Place to Work Certified™ companies share how they are approaching the divisive issue with employees.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, many employers responded.

As some states effectively outlawed abortion procedures, several companies affirmed in bold statements their support for a woman’s right to choose, promising travel stipends and support for employees who must travel long distances to receive reproductive care.

Yet, the roll out of these benefits has been a bit more complicated than those early statements made it seem. Concerns about employee privacy, taxes, and legal liabilities have forced companies to thread a delicate needle in supporting employee travel for reproductive care.

What shouldn’t be lost in this discussion is the importance of employee trust.

Communication from leaders on their plans to offer reproductive care and travel stipends to workers is an inflection point for trust.

“Employees see their leaders as believable and trustworthy when they act on their stated values and commitments,” says Sarah Lewis-Kulin, vice president of global recognition at Great Place To Work®.

How companies are living up to their external statements around this issue could affect trust within an organization for years to come.

One HR executive who is leading with her voice is Katie Burke, chief people officer for HubSpot, a Great Place To Work Certified™ company and No. 31 on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® list in 2022. After the Supreme Court decision, she tweeted:  

Burke says she saw her statement as living up to her role as a diversity and inclusion leader at HubSpot.

“I am a female people leader and the executive sponsor of our LGBTQ+ Alliance at HubSpot, so issues of diversity, inclusion, and equitable access to benefits are top of mind professionally,” she says.

“And, importantly, I’m also a human being who is navigating the emotions and uncertainty that comes with the news, so my intention in sharing my point of view was to acknowledge both of those things in a way that felt authentic to me and to HubSpot’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging.”

The statement seemed to resonate with employees at Hubspot.

“Yet another reason why I am so incredibly proud to work at HubSpot,” wrote an employee on LinkedIn who shared Burke’s tweet.

“Today with teary eyes I learned that HubSpot announced a plan to reimburse $2,500 for travel & lodging costs for employees seeking abortion care in states impacted by the overturning of Roe vs. Wade,” shared another HubSpot team member. “Thank you Katie Burke & team for quickly turning frustration into action. I’m proud to work for a company who supports equal opportunity & access to healthcare.”

“The world outside your organization has a profound impact on the humans within your organization.”

For Burke, the success of her message lies in the balance between her own personal beliefs and providing space for many viewpoints in a company as big as HubSpot with 7,000 employees.

“We wanted to make sure employees had a safe space to process the news and had access to support,” she says. “We also wanted to make it clear that our decision was rooted in ensuring equal opportunity and access to healthcare.”

Relying on culture

 Companies like HubSpot that have built up a reservoir of trust with employees can rely on that culture when working through tough issues or uncertainty.

“If you haven’t already built trust, then it’s going to be harder in a crisis,” explains Lewis-Kulin on the need to build trust before facing tough moments for the business. “They might not believe you.”

For Burke, it was HubSpot’s culture of empathy that made it possible to bridge the divide on a charged issue like abortion.

“Because we place a lot of emphasis on leading with empathy, our employees were grateful we acknowledged this issue during an uncertain time,” she says. “The feedback we are getting is largely rooted in gratitude to our HR Business Partner team, who made space to listen to people who needed it on all sides of this issue, and to our benefits team for being so thoughtful about ensuring equity in our approach to health care for our employees.”

Connecting with your organization’s values — and listening closely to employee feedback — is essential to the success of any new benefit offering.

“You can’t just take a program or communication from somewhere else and insert into your company,” says Lewis-Kulin. “You really have to understand the specific needs of your people.”

Thinking inclusively

Offering reproductive care doesn’t have to be all about abortion, either. Some organizations are thinking about the issue more inclusively, especially as some of the more restrictive state bans may apply to procedures such as IVF.

Tax preparation company H&R Block, also a Great Place To Work Certified company, is putting emphasis on inclusion in its promise to cover travel for reproductive care.

“Caring for all associates regardless of where they live is a top priority, as is ensuring all of our associates have equitable access to health care and the benefits they and their family need,” says Tiffany Monroe, chief people and culture officer at H&R Block. “We already covered travel for certain conditions that require access to a center of excellence, so expanding our coverage to include travel and related expenses for reproductive health care that could not be accessed locally was a logical addition.”

“Workplaces are also like a social safety net for us right now, because there’s certain supports that the government just doesn’t provide for workers. Who you work for can really impact your family’s and your community’s wellness and safety.”

The value of inclusion was also important in asking employees to make space for the viewpoints of colleagues.

“We knew the topic of reproductive rights and health care could be polarizing, but we encouraged our associates to demonstrate one of our company behaviors, Better Together,” Monroe says. “We asked them to come together as a community and commit to discussing this topic in the workplace with understanding and respect.”

Understanding your impact

For companies still working through their response to the Supreme Court decision, the experts agree that leaders can’t overlook their role in employees’ lives.

“The world outside your organization has a profound impact on the humans within your organization,” says Burke. “As a result, you as a people leader need to help create space for people to process this news and acknowledge the heaviness of the moment, even when it’s hard to do so — perhaps especially when it’s hard to do so.”

“Workplaces are also like a social safety net for us right now, because there’s certain supports that the government just doesn’t provide for workers,” says Lewis-Kulin. “Who you work for can really impact your family’s and your community’s wellness and safety.”

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Ted Kitterman