Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, commentators, celebrities and politicians from across the political and economic spectrum have weighed in on its implications. Additionally, some of the country’s (and the world’s) best-known companies have released statements indicating their reaction to the decision. According to Reuters, Tesla, Disney, Amazon and Netflix, to name a few, have publicly said they will provide benefits, including travel expenses, to employees who must leave the state to access services. abortion care. This follows steps many of these companies have already taken to implement more “family-friendly” workplaces. For example, Netflix also offers up to a year of paid leave for workers after the birth or adoption of a baby, and Microsoft and Google regularly feature on lists of companies with the most generous parental leave benefits.
At first glance, it would appear that these companies are taking significant steps to both maintain women’s ability to balance work and parenthood and support women’s ability to access abortion care, even though this right has been denied by the court. But while these corporate decisions generate positive media from those who support women’s right to choose abortion, they can also serve to perpetuate racial and economic inequality. To understand why, it is important to consider how work and organizations have changed in recent decades and the implications this has for which women work and where.
In 1973, the year Roe v. Wade was first decided it would have been common for businesses to hire workers to perform a range of tasks. In a hotel, for example, some workers would be employed in the reception, others would clean the rooms, still others would work in the kitchen preparing the food. But all of them would be employed by the hotel itself, so any benefits the organization chooses to bestow on its workers would (theoretically) go to all of them.
This organizational model has continued to evolve over the past few decades. Today, in what economist David Weil calls the fissured workplace, workers are increasingly less likely to be employed directly by companies, even when those companies depend on their labor. In this model, the receptionist who checks you into a hotel, the technician who comes to fix your refrigerator, and the catering worker who prepares your meal in the company cafeteria all share a common experience — they probably don’t work for the company you think they do. Instead, organizations are much more likely to outsource this type of work. They rely on third-party companies, temporary workers, and contract employees who do most of this work, but know very little of the economic growth that has occurred over the past few decades.
This staggered working pattern is not without consequences. Sociologists Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Dustin Avent-Holt have found that this transition has become a major pattern contributing to economic inequality. Simply put, companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Google rake in huge profits and offer high salaries and generous benefits to their employees. But the employees who actually count as “their workers” are a rapidly shrinking group. Those left out of this arrangement tend to do the less glamorous work – and in many companies, they are people of color too. They do not have access to the protections granted to full-time employees, nor do they enjoy the benefits that such workers enjoy.
Given this, corporate decisions to fund worker travel for abortion care or include it as a benefit mean that this model will not only reproduce economic inequality, but will also have gender and racial consequences. . Which women are most likely to work as full-time employees of companies that offer these benefits? It’s not women of color, who are underrepresented in many industries, who are making these changes to their employees.
In tech, where Amazon, Google and Netflix will allow women time off to access abortion care, in 2015 women made up 25% of employees and Asian American women made up the largest group of women of color with only 5%. African-American and Latino women made up a paltry 3% and 1%, respectively. The financial sector, where JPMorgan Chase follows suit, has also not been kind to women of color, with black, Asian and Latina women facing substantial discrimination in advancement opportunities in elite sectors. of this domain. Sociologist Megan Tobias Neeley finds that in the hedge fund industry, a system of patrimonialism — where most white male managers find and groom other white men for leadership and advancement opportunities — virtually guarantees that women of all races, but especially women of color, face thwarted career paths and minimal mobility if they succeed.
In the fractured workplace, those most likely to receive abortion benefits will be well-educated, well-paid white women. Women working for Google as engineers, software designers and coders will be the ones who can use company funds to travel out of state for abortion care. The women who empty the bins, prepare the food in the cafeteria, and make sure you log in when you enter the building? Not really.
That said, women of color who are direct employees of these companies will likely also face particular challenges in accessing these benefits. Aside from the immediate awkwardness and discomfort of telling your boss you need time off for abortion care, women of color often report more distance and difficulty building relationships with their direct superiors and supervisors. For black and Latina women, who are already stereotyped as very promiscuous and sexually available, going to a (presumably) white male manager to ask for abortion leave isn’t just uncomfortable. This risks aggravating their existing sense of alienation in these workplaces.
It’s common to hear critics of the Roe reversal note that low-income women of color will be the hardest hit by the move. When companies that use a fissured workplace model offer abortion coverage or benefits to their employees, they help turn this truism into reality. Employees who can take advantage of this benefit will not be women of color who work in low-paying jobs. These women toil in jobs without paid parental leave, affordable childcare or sick leave. From now on, they can add the right to abortion to the list of resources that are denied to them.