- The Supreme Court has overturned the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.
- This decision is reigniting conversations on abortion access, including in the workplace.
- HR experts like ICRW’s Pamela Van de Walle discuss how to talk about Roe v. Wade at work.
The Supreme Court has overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion. The ruling means that access to abortion is expected to be banned or severely restricted in at least 28 states.
The decision has reignited conversations about reproductive rights. Some leaders such as President Barack Obama are discussing how people can join protests and vote. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted about her action plan. There’s a lot of talk around will happen in the 13 states with “trigger laws”.
A number of these conversations are happening at work, including discussions about how Roe v. Wade will impact employees’ rights in different states.
“It is important for an organization to understand that what happens outside the walls of the office impacts employees, even if they are not talking about it,” Pamela Van de Walle, the director of human resources at the International Center for Research on Women, told Insider. “As a company or organization, it is equally and even more important to take some action rather than wait for moments like this one to arise.”
Talking about hot-button issues like abortion or immigration can be tricky. Some experts even suggest avoiding these types of issues at work because it could harm relationships between coworkers or even get you reported to HR. But according to Van de Walle, there are some strategies you can use if you find yourself in an uncomfortable conversation.
She and other experts share guidelines on how employees can best navigate conversations on abortion access in the workplace — especially because not all workers share the same opinions on healthcare.
Use gender-inclusive language
According to Van de Walle, it’s important to be mindful of the correct terminology when speaking about abortion access in the workplace. Data shows that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals also need access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, so workers should use terms like “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women” and “people who can have abortions” instead of “women and girls who can have abortions.”
“It’s important to keep in mind that Roe v. Wade does not just impact women. It impacts men, LGBTQIA+ individuals, families, and broader communities,” Van de Walle said. “Using gender-inclusive language when discussing Roe v. Wade demonstrates support for all people.”
Get your facts straight
In an article for Harvard Business Review, career consultant Lily Zheng wrote that in order to discuss complex issues in the workplace, it’s important for employees to do their research beforehand instead of relying on coworkers to educate them. Zheng said that people should be intentional about the kind of information they’re looking for when searching the internet. Academic journals, surveys by notable nonprofit organizations like Pew Research Center, and TED Talks are sources that should be prioritized over op-ed articles and social media. To discuss Roe v. Wade in particular, workers can look at leading reproductive-healthcare organizations like Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher Institute for up-to-date information.
HR can help
In light of the recent decision, workers might want to take their time discussing the topic and might prefer a specific meeting place. In this case, Van de Walle said that employees should reach out to their human resources department for guidance.
She said that the HR department can help “determine a space either inside the office building or externally that would be set aside for open and honest conversation with guidelines laid out beforehand to build on trust, respect, and to create a safe and judgment-free space.”
A safe space could also create an opportunity for workers to connect with those on other teams or departments who they otherwise wouldn’t have met.
Some workers might want to take time off in order to process the news. In this case, HR can help workers communicate with their managers about what they need.
Keep your cool
Because Roe v. Wade is an issue that is deeply divisive, workers engaged in a discussion could run the risk of bringing tension to their team. Business coach Amy Jen Su said that if you get riled up in a conversation, recognize the signs and take a step back. She wrote in Harvard Business Review that employees should be aware of their body’s physical and psychological reactions to what they’re hearing, like heart rates going up or faces turning red. She suggested taking deep breaths to ground yourself. She also said when workers recognize their emotions are getting the best of them, they should remind themselves about the objective of the discussion.
Withhold your opinion
Sometimes, the workplace isn’t where someone wants to share their opinion on current events, and Van de Walle said that’s perfectly normal. “As an employee, you should not be expected to respond to any issue that makes you feel uncomfortable. It should be perfectly acceptable to say that you do not wish to discuss,” she said.
Even if a worker doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, they can still take part by actively listening to other employees. This may help them decide if and how they want to respond at a later date.