With the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, fifty years of female reproductive rights were suddenly taken away. This decision by a select few will impact the lives of millions, and that impact will have significant ramifications on the already-troublesome gender gap in the workplace.
Below are just a few of the inequities we can expect to widen, along with tips for employers to help mitigate them.
The non-adjusted gender pay gap is generally calculated by looking at the difference in median salary of full-time employees that identify as men vs. women. Based on this calculation, women were already paid 22.1% less than men in 2021 in the US, and that widens to 43% less for Hispanic women and 36% less for Black women.
When women become mothers, the overall gender gap increases to 30%. Many women choose to wait until they are further along in their career to have children due to this “motherhood penalty.” Now that unwanted pregnancies will be on the rise, we can expect this wider pay gap to become more prevalent, and see less gender representation in higher-paying roles as fewer women have the opportunity to grow into leadership positions.
Employer Tip: Pay extra attention to promotion velocity and adjusted pay equity, and create flexible work policies that accommodate working parents.
For anyone that’s ever tried to focus in a meeting while mourning a miscarriage, experiencing the rollercoaster of trying to conceive, or breathing through the pain of endometriosis, you know that it’s difficult to do your best work in these situations, even with accessible mitigations available.
Now imagine having an unviable or unplanned pregnancy–or even a pregnancy that could risk your life–that you aren’t able to safely mitigate. The mental space that stress can take up prevents people from being able to do their best work. With this new ruling, it will be the employees with uteruses whose mental space is more consumed by this stress, and thus those are the ones that will risk lower performance ratings and slower advancement.
Stephanie Nadi Olson is the founder of We Are Rosie, an inclusive, women-centered talent marketplace. “Women cannot achieve equality at work if we force women to carry unwanted or dangerous pregnancies,” she shared. “This ruling makes it that much harder for women to succeed in a system of work and government that was not designed for us or by us.”
This all falls on top of existing burdens of paid and unpaid work that women experience. “The gendered inequities of the invisible load were very real before this, as a glance at the experiences shared on OwnTrail will prove,” shared Kt McBratney, co-founder of career and life navigation platform, OwnTrail. “Losing these essential healthcare rights will only add to that in immediate and longterm ways across all aspects of birthing people’s lives, including the workplace.”
Employer Tip: Give employees space and acknowledgement to process and cope, speak up and advocate for policy change, and provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare.
This ruling by the Supreme Court has clearly implied that women are second-class citizens, undeserving of autonomy over their own bodies and decisions. In a world where women are already held to different standards than men, treading the line between being perceived as submissive and aggressive, this vote of inconfidence from a powerful entity can serve to sharpen that double-edged sword.
“Our government has just told half of the working population that they can’t be trusted to have decision-making authority over their own bodies,” Nadi Olson explained. “This decision will have massive implications on how women are viewed at work.”
A sense of belonging at work is fundamental to attracting, retaining and growing a diverse range of employees. The biases that will be exacerbated by this ruling will serve to directly impede women’s sense of belonging and respect in the workplace. This could play out in the form of stunted growth opportunities, outward hostility and microaggressions, all of which already impact women of color and LGBTQIA+ women the most.
“Seeing that the government and part of your community doesn’t think you deserve the same human rights as people without uteruses can have a huge impact on the sense of belonging that women feel in the workplace,” McBratney shared.
Of course, these issues and mitigations are specific to people employed by companies that tend to have benefits, paid time off and HR support. The ramifications of this ruling are even more complex and severe for people that are in low-wage jobs, unemployed or attending school.
It’s unfortunate that corporate initiatives are now one of the biggest ways to protect women’s rights. But with that responsibility being abandoned by the Supreme Court, it is a role that employers must take on to protect the safety and quality of life of their employees of all genders.