Brainstorm HealthBrainstorm DesignBrainstorm TechMost Powerful WomenCEO Initiative

Business leaders have the power to disrupt the political status quo

October 13, 2021, 6:30 PM UTC

When it comes to politics, business leaders have the “widest swim lane” and can be the most powerful voices to effect change, says attorney and legal expert Laura Coates. 

“Corporate America and business leaders are in this extraordinary position to know that they can, for altruistic reasons, put their thumb on the scale and light a fire. I think it’s incumbent upon corporate America to view themselves as a necessary disrupter of the status quo,” Coates told Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit on Wednesday. 

“So often in Washington, D.C. political inertia rules the day,” Coates added. “Until people can come in with power and necessary influence who understand the thematics of having people vote, daily, hourly by the minute on things that matter to them, there’s not a lot that can disrupt that inertia of the status quo.”

Coates said that business leaders, and women in particular, have the ability to straddle these different roles and identities to create change in a meaningful way. 

For instance, when North Carolina passed the so-called bathroom bill that prevented transgender people in the state from using bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity, the business community spoke up and acted—even the NCAA tournaments relocated. An AP analysis estimated the state lost more than $3.76 billion in business as a result of the bill.

“These are very real factors that Capitol Hill takes into account, and can move the needle in other ways,” Coates said. 

And the business community may need to raise their voices again, particularly around issues like those posed by the latest Texas abortion bill. The law essentially bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy—before most women even realize they are pregnant. The law, which does not carve out any exemptions for incest or rape, is set to be enforced by allowing private citizens to sue to gain cash judgments of up to $10,000 from anyone who performs an abortion or aids in terminating a pregnancy after six weeks. 

The “scariest part” about this bill, Coates says, is the fact that Texas legislators did an “end run” around the judicial branch by setting up the law to be enforced by private citizens, rather than an elected official who can be sued to stop a law like this from going into effect. “It’s so offensive to our notions of what democracy is supposed to be,” she said.

Those interested in this issue should watch for other states to use this type of legislation as a “blueprint,” as well as the upcoming court cases against the Texas law, as well as the Mississippi abortion ban that the Supreme Court has agreed to take up

“This is not over,” Coates said.

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories delivered straight to your inbox each morning.