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CEOs Publish Open Letter on Reproductive Rights and Abortion: RaceAhead

June 10, 2019, 5:10 PM UTC

Nearly 200 CEOs and senior executives have signed an open letter that opposes any restrictions to reproductive health care and specifically abortion. The letter, published in a full-page ad in The New York Times, begins with a bold headline: Don’t Ban Equality.

While many of the executives come from companies catering primarily to female customers, like Eileen Fisher, Ezinne Kwubiri from H&M, and Mark and Karen Wolverton from Lush Cosmetics, not all do. Among the signatories are Jack Dorsey from Square, Ari Emanuel from Endeavor, Stewart Butterfield from Slack, and Eric S. Yuan from Zoom.

“Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers,” the ad says. “It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across the states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.”

The website for the coalition can be found here.

The alliance is a result of a behind-the-scenes effort from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, The American Civil Liberties Union, and Center for Reproductive Rights, and comes at a time when the nation is increasingly divided state-by-state on the issue of abortion access. While Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Missouri have all taken up legislation that in many cases threatens to ban abortions entirely and punish doctors who perform them, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Maine, Nevada, and Hawaii are all working on bills that would protect access to the procedure.

“We believe that a woman’s ability to access reproductive health care is critical to her autonomy, economic success, physical and mental health and general empowerment in the workplace,” signatory Andrea Blieden, U.S. general manager of The Body Shop, told CNBC. “As a brand that stands for equality and women’s empowerment, we believe it’s important that we take a stand and join this cause.”

The open letter is a big step up from last May, when only seven CEOs, all women, ran a full-page ad in The New York Times affirming abortion as a human and constitutional right and asking for leaders to say as much. “For too long, corporate America has been largely silent on speaking up for sexual and reproductive health and rights,” the letter read. “That must change.”

Change may be coming.

After Georgia passed a law banning most abortions after six weeks, film director Spike Lee called for Hollywood production companies to “shut it down” and boycott the state. “You’ve got to be on the right side of history, and the state of Georgia and those other states, they’re wrong,” he said.

Netflix, Disney, WarnerMedia, AMC Networks, NBCUniversal, CBS Corp., and Showtime have threatened or are considering boycotts, a move that seems to have startled the annual $9.5 billion industry known as Y’allywood.

“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told Reuters.

It’s more proof that CEOs are increasingly finding ways to speak up on issues that affect society—data shows nearly half of all millennials think it’s their job to do so—exerting their collective power while navigating the thorniest of issues.

That’s why I’m particularly proud to co-chair Fortune’s CEO Initiative, now in its third year.

While we don’t plan to take on abortion specifically (although CEOI members Zendesk’s Mikkel Svane and Hint Water’s Kara Goldin signed the letter) we will be tackling the many ways that chief executives who are committed to improving the social impact of their businesses can tap the collective wisdom of their peers to make better, more equitable decisions.

The action begins tonight at 6 p.m. Eastern when Microsoft CEO Brad Smith talks with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky about how technology can better work for everyone. It continues at 7:30 p.m. when IBM CEO Ginni Rometty joins Fortune CEO Alan Murray to tackle the subject of inclusion and equity in the era of A.I.

Follow the livestream here.

On Point

The first actor who uses a wheelchair gets a Tony AwardThe entire ceremony was awash with good feeling, messages of Pride, and other public displays of allyship. But it was Ali Stroker who made real history by becoming the first person who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. And it was a biggie, too: best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical for her portrayal of "Ado Annie" in the revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" She took the moment to represent. "This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena... You are."CBS News

Canada offers a third choice for gender on passports and official documents
Canada is now allowing citizens who don’t identify as male or female to choose “X” on their passports, travel documents, and citizenship cards. “Canadian citizens and residents deserve to be respected and have the opportunity to live according to their own identity,” the government said in a statement. Anyone who wants to replace or update their documents can do so without fee until June 4, 2020. Click through for more information on how the Canadian government is modernizing their gender information practices.

An old Jim Crow era voting provision comes under fire in Mississippi
Democrats say that the rule, which was added to the Mississippi state constitution in 1890 to dilute the voting power of newly enfranchised black voters, is still working as designed. The provision is an odd one; it requires a candidate running for governor to win both a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the vote in more than half the state’s 122 legislative districts. Trouble is, African American voters are majorities in only 42 out of 122 districts. The National Redistricting Foundation, a group headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, is suing to get the provisions removed. Things are getting heated. "Any Mississippian who wants to change our constitution can pursue that change through a voter initiative. This is a decision for Mississippians to make, not Washington liberals,” says a spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) who is in a tight race for governor.
The Hill

D.C. lawmakers aim to restore voting rights to currently incarcerated people
D.C. Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) has proposed legislation that will roll back provisions in a 1955 law that prevents D.C. residents from voting once they receive a felony conviction. "Unfortunately in the District and across the country, incarcerated people make up a sizable population of residents,” White told The Washington Post. “They don’t lose their citizenship when they are incarcerated, so they shouldn’t lose their right to vote.” D.C. already re-enfranchises former felons upon release; every state but Maine and Vermont bars incarcerated people from voting.
Washington Post

On Background

You should learn to draw a horse
This unique essay from New Yorker contributing cartoonist Emma Hunsinger is one of loveliest stories I’ve read in ages. Trust me, just click through and enjoy. Really. Click it.
New Yorker

The University of Georgia plans to get creative about reparations
This story begins with the shocking discovery of the remains of more than 100 formerly enslaved people under the foundation of a building on the campus of the University of Georgia, in Athens, Ga. That discovery, now years ago, started a difficult conversation about atonement, justice, and reparations. But this spring semester, that tension bubbled into a protest in which 200 students presented their demands via megaphone: A minimum wage of $15 for campus service employees, who, unlike the student body, are mostly black. They’re also asking for full scholarships for any African American student from the mostly black Athens High School, or for any descendant of an enslaved person. Here’s the rub: UGA used to offer scholarships for black students, but in the 1990s, 15 white students sued, claiming the scholarships violated their civil rights. The lawsuit triggered a permanent ban on race-based assistance. Now, the protestors are looking for legal workarounds. "There are ways to get at this. Other universities who are in these same constraints have been able to do that,” says one.
Georgia Public Broadcasting

Women: What to do if you’re interrupted at work
There’s good advice here for women who want to be prepared to face the bias that is often present in the workplace. Start by calling it out, says Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian. “When starting the conversation [about salary negotiation] set the stage by naming the biases that might affect the discussion,” she says, such as the research that shows that when women advocate for themselves, they’re perceived as less likable. “[T]his can help offset a stereotype-driven bias before it happens,” she says. And if you’re interrupted in a meeting, don’t stop talking. "James, I’d love to quickly finish this point,” is an easy way to make your point. And allies, if you see someone else get railroaded in a meeting, you can do the same thing on their behalf, regardless of gender or hue.

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead and assisted in the preparation of today's summaries.


Performing for me has been a moment where I felt like I was my most powerful self, and so I became hooked. I just wanted to be on stage. Growing up in a chair, I was used to people staring and looking at me, and, you know, that was difficult. And then when I got on stage, people were staring and looking at me for the reason that I wanted, and I felt powerful.
—Ali Stroker