As I watched the Democratic presidential candidates take the stage for the first primary debate of the 2020 election cycle, I knew we were in for a chilling reminder of the long and pressing list of challenges our country presently faces.
Advocates for equity and justice have certainly counted a few wins since the last presidential election. My home state of Texas has enjoyed a share of these, including historical voting turnout in the 2018 midterms and, near and dear to my heart, a great triumph against bigotry when the infamous “bathroom bill” — legislation restricting access to public bathrooms for transgender people — died before the close of the 2017 state legislative session.
This particular victory came as a result of extraordinary organizing. Support for the trans community poured in from anti-violence groups, law enforcement, faith leaders and community members across Texas and beyond, including North Carolina and other states fighting similar battles. And, notably, steadfast support came from major industry leaders in the corporate sector. Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, Google, IBM, Southwest Airlines and Texas Instruments are just a few of the many companies that called on the Texas House of Representatives to drop this discriminatory legislation. As a Texan, a former state legislator and a fierce defender of justice, I was moved to see the corporate sector take such a beautifully strong stand in defense of LGBTQ+ equality as my state threatened the equity and safety of a vulnerable population.
We saw this same strong and appropriate response from corporate leaders when politicians in North Carolina proposed HB2, a law banning individuals from using public restrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex, and preempting state law over local ordinances offering non-discrimination protections. Even the NCAA responded to the legislation, pulling seven 2016-2017 championship games scheduled in North Carolina to defend “the collective will of [the] diverse group” that makes up its membership. The mounting response from the NCAA and others pressured the state to backtrack at least some of the bigoted and harmful attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.
As all of that unfolded, I wondered to myself and out loud to allies: Where was this response when women’s reproductive freedoms were under attack in my state and in so many other states across the country? Since 2001, there have been nearly 700 abortion limits or bans aimed at choking off women’s access to the constitutionally-assured reproductive healthcare that they need, compared with just 33 efforts to improve access. And yet, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that a group of corporate leaders came forward to decry this injustice.
What’s interesting about this relative silence is that women’s participation in the full-time workforce and the contributions that we make to the economic bottom line of corporate America, as well as to the bottom line economic well-being of the country as a whole, is largely dependent on our ability to control when and whether we have children. The change in our participation in the full-time workforce after Eisenstadt v. Baird (which legalized access to oral contraceptives) and Roe v. Wade (which legalized access to abortion care) has been well-documented. In the late 1970s, following these two decisions, labor force participation for women ages 25 to 64 who held a college degree nearly quadrupled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and women’s participation in the full-time workforce skyrocketed from 28% to over 40% — a rate of participation that hangs steady today. The net benefit to the country’s economy as a result of that participation has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“The net benefit to the country’s economy as a result of women’s participation in the full-time workforce has been nothing short of extraordinary…corporate America ought to be stepping up and speaking out every time it sees these kinds of attacks on women take root.”-Wendy Davis
So, not only do women stand to lose when our reproductive autonomy is under attack; corporate America and the overall well-being of our economy stands to suffer as well. If only for its own self interest, then, corporate America ought to be stepping up and speaking out every time it sees these kinds of attacks on women take root. More so, corporate America should follow the model of corporate leaders like Marc Benioff of Salesforce, who, recognizing the importance of women in his own workforce, has actively worked to assure pay equity, family leave and access to affordable quality childcare for his employees with families. Benioff has recognized the long-term benefit to his own bottom line as a result of these policies.
Today, I am raising my voice and urge every democratic candidate running in 2020 to do the same, to ask more of our corporate leaders and keep this issue front and center. Please follow the lead of Bloomberg, Netflix, Yelp, Outdoor Voices, M.M.LaFleur, The Riveter and others, and use your considerable influence to stand up for the very women upon whom your companies’ — and our country’s — economic well-being relies.
Wendy Davis is a former Texas Senator who has been called “courageous” and “articulate and gutsy” by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. After serving on the Fort Worth City Council for nine years, Davis defied the odds and unseated a longtime incumbent to win election to the Texas Senate in 2008. In 2013, Davis held a thirteen-hour-long filibuster to block Senate Bill 15, a measure which included more-restrictive abortion restrictions for Texas.