Wading into a row
Few companies in the US are offering women support because they are woke
Good morning! A big hello to readers who signed up this week. Welcome to The Intersection, The Signal's weekend edition. This weekend we talk about what a post-Roe America means for professionals. Also in today’s edition: we have curated the best weekend reads for you.
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong was performing in London when the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) abolished the constitutional right to abortion. Armstrong renounced his US citizenship on stage calling it “a miserable f—ing excuse of a country”.
"F--- America. I'm f---ing renouncing my citizenship. I'm f---ing coming here," the outspoken singer famous for his highly political song American Idiot told fans mid-concert.
Whether Armstrong redeems his on-stage pledge or not, the reaction encapsulated the anguish that is sweeping across the globe over the verdict. What worries many is that a bulwark has been shattered and a dam burst is coming. In the judgement overturning the five-decade-old decision in Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents.” That statement is being seen as an indication that the Supreme Court is about to go after other hard-earned freedoms. No less than the vice-president aired it.
“In holding that it is not deeply rooted in our history, today’s decision on that theory, then, calls into question other rights that we thought were settled, such as the right to use birth control, the right to same-sex marriage, the right to interracial marriage,” Kamala Harris, the vice-president, said.
At last count, 26 states were expected to have anti-abortion laws in place, half of which had set up legislation to automatically come into force with the SCOTUS ruling. Does half of the US suddenly look a little less attractive to workers, professionals and investors looking to the country as a destination where freedoms are respected and enterprise is valued?
“In principle, yes,” says Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University.
“The attractiveness of Texas/Florida/Georgia/North Carolina/Ohio now will undoubtedly be judged against abortion issues, both by investors and migrants,” Varshney tells The Intersection.
One of the first entrepreneurs to warn about doing business in anti-abortion states was Luis von Ahn, CEO and co-founder of language-education company Duolingo. Ahn tweeted that if Pennsylvania banned abortion, Duolingo will not be able to attract talent and will have to grow elsewhere.
Large US corporations have in general voiced support for employees, offering them medical care and freedom to travel where abortions are legal. Varshney says there will be no issues in Democratic states as abortion would be banned only in Republican states, although it is unclear whether they would be able to ban FDA-approved abortions or ban travel out of state for surgical abortions, an option unavailable to the poor.
Companies that are spread across geographies might grapple with multiple legal regimes and a skewed labour market. Federal law prohibits sex discrimination, which includes discrimination based on pregnancy, says Michelle Banker, Director of Reproductive Rights and Health Litigation at the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington DC-based organisation.
Banker says that there are several open legal questions at the moment. “A lot will depend on the type of plan that employers have and state laws that apply. Folks are still right now really wrapping their heads around it,” she said.
Woke companies, really?
States’ social policies are unlikely to become the defining factor for companies to move, although it could be one. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Steven Tian, and Georgia Hirsty from the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute studied 118 companies that were first movers in responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling. They found that they were acting not because they were led by woke leaders, but because they were motivated by strategic positioning and considerations.
Only five of 44 women-led Fortune 500 companies backed employees traveling for abortions. A third of the first movers were tech companies whose average age is typically much lower than the broader corporate universe. Their policies need to resonate with the social consciousness of their young employees. Interestingly, only nine of the first movers were headquartered in Republican-controlled states.
Dreamland no more
Jen Morrow is a design manager who has worked at some of the largest tech companies in Silicon Valley. She has interviewed a number of potential immigrants from different countries and says that despite all its warts, the US is aspirational to some people for personal reasons, such as wanting to bring up kids here.
“That shine feels darker. Like that aspirational picture has dirt and grime on it,” Morrow tells The Intersection.
Morrow says would-be immigrants may lose rights they’ve had and expect, and are entitled to, by moving to the US. The Supreme Court dismantling the right to gay marriage would be devastating. “That would be like saying—Move here and we’ll take your work and money, but we won’t respect you like a straight person,” she says.
The US is a top destination for Indian workers and companies. In the two decades beginning 1980, the Indian cohort in the US has grown 13-fold and is now about 6% of the country’s population. Over 150 Indian companies have invested $22 billion in the US.
As recently as last week, a group of bipartisan US state governors serenaded a delegation of Indian businessmen, urging them to invest in their states. Among them was Arkansas’ Republican governor Asa Hutchinson, who had supported a near total ban on abortion in his state. The law was structured to be triggered by the Supreme Court ruling. Indian companies such as Infosys, TCS and Welspun Mahindra are investors in the state and Wipro is adding a new facility there.
“I don’t see any impact on Indian companies,” says Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum. “They will not de-invest anywhere,” Aghi told The Intersection over phone from Washington.
Aghi, however, says that at some stage many companies might not want to add more resources in some states. “There will be a lot of momentum from women consumers. Most companies will face pressure from them,” Aghi says.
Women will also be considering how companies decide to handle data related to abortion. “It's going to be important for companies to be transparent about the use of the data, what they could potentially be sharing with the government,” says New York-based career and leadership coach Rachel B Garret. She fears that abortion bans will dramatically limit opportunities for women. "Maybe companies that offer benefits will be in demand and might offer lower salaries,” Garret tells The Intersection.
In a post-Roe world, employment opportunities in several states could become inaccessible to women due to abortion bans. With remote work being preferred post-pandemic, there is a possibility that companies, in order to avoid additional costs, may not hire people from states where abortion is illegal, she says.
Brown University professor Varshney described the ruling as another step towards the democratic backsliding of America. SCOTUS has since taken more steps such as limiting the government’s ability to cut carbon emissions, and is set to hear a case that could see state legislatures getting more power than state courts for rule-setting in federal elections. That’s more backsliding.
Fool’s Gold: The future of one of the world’s most prestigious award shows is on a precipice. The 2023 Golden Globe Awards may not air due to a standoff between broadcaster NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which conducts the Globes. Reason: HFPA’s lack of diversity and alleged corruption. This is a story about the dramatic politicking and schisms between Hollywood’s star publicists, and HFPA’s desperate moves to win over NBC.
Sackcloth and ashes: Most secondhand fast fashion apparel donated by people in the developed world end up in Accra, Ghana. It’s home to West Africa’s second-largest exchange for hand-me-downs from the US, UK, EU, and Australia. Clothes that can be mended are transported in 55 kg bales by kayayei– women who literally carry the burden of a hazardous, low-paying job. But the overwhelming majority can’t be salvaged and make it to landfills, resulting in losses for importers and worsening Ghana’s acute waste crisis.
Juicy marketing: Orange juice for breakfast is most likely propaganda. It all started in 1909 when Florida, US had to deal with too many oranges because of overproduction. Enthusiastic marketers had a job. Orange juice was then fed to the troops in World War II. Soon, restaurants in Florida sold only frozen orange juice because fresh wasn't good enough. Today, more Americans drink orange juice than eat a fresh orange. This story lays out the whys.
Mind over matter: Former India coach and Australian great Greg Chappell attributes his success to devising different ways to keep his mind fresh before facing a delivery. Coaches all over the world can be seen advising young batters to watch the ball closely—sometimes way before a bowler loads up after his run-up to the crease – as a key part of the coaching manual to score big runs. This long read compares different international batters, past and present, their trigger movements, and what works for them. Does Chappell’s method work for every batter? If so, what’s their success rate?
Word game: We have all used the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) at some point. After all, it has been a repository for the world’s most widely spoken language since the mid-19th century. Recently, the OED team felt a little twitchy about adding the definition of "Terf", an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to its pages. Well, it's a monumental task after all—revising outdated entries, adding new words and keeping up with changing sensibilities. Read this piece by The New Statesman to know how they do it all!
Swindle in the air: Serhat Gumrukcu, is a Turkish tycoon in the world of biotech. So after moving to the US, the founder of Enochian Biosciences identified a new market to cater to. But things did not go down well. Gumrukcu has been accused of misrepresenting his credentials and fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars. Add to woes: his partner Mustafa Gumrukcu too gets accused of plotting the murder of a business associate. Prosecutors allege that the conspiracy to kill the man was to prevent him from exposing the scam. Dive into the full story here.
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