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Pulling back the curtain

The great and powerful Oz? Big media help pro-abortion executives seem much larger than life

Pulling back the curtain

(Krieg Barrie)

Kristin Hull, CEO of the Nia Impact Capital investment firm, was sitting at her computer reading emails when she received a notification about a pro-abortion ad that would take up a full page in The New York Times. “I thought, ‘Oh this is so fantastic.’” Almost immediately, she decided to add her signature to the growing list, because “it was very clear to me that this was the right thing to do.”

Nina Faulhaber, co-founder and co-CEO of the capsule clothing brand Aday, had a similar reaction. “We didn’t even have to think about it,” she wrote to me. “As a women-founded, women-led company believing in gender equality and equal opportunity for all people, it was so clear to us which stance we would be taking in this discussion.”

Alexandra Fine, CEO of the sex toy company Dame Products, said her decision to sign was equally clear: “These laws are putting women in harm’s way. I feel that these rules and regulations are the antithesis of our mission—which is to close the pleasure gap.”

Hull: Justin Kaneps • Faulhaber: David M. Benett/Getty Images for <em>Details</em> magazine • Fine: Danny Ghitis/<em>The New York Times</em>/redux

From left, Kristin Hull, Nina Faulhaber, and Alexandra Fine. (Hull: Justin Kaneps • Faulhaber: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Details magazine • Fine: Danny Ghitis/The New York Times/redux)

Fine was referring to the pro-life laws recently passed in states including Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, and Ohio. “Don’t Ban Equality”—a full-page New York Times ad on June 10 signed by 50 business executives—was a reaction to this legislation. Hull, Faulhaber, and Fine were among the original signers.

The ad announced: “It’s time for companies to stand up for reproductive health care. … Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers. Simply put, it goes against our values, and is bad for business.” 

The day of the ad’s release, USA Today ran the headline: “‘Bad for business’: Executives from major companies sign joint letter against abortion bans.” This article and other media coverage of the ad highlighted the more recognizable brands on the list, such as Yelp, H&M, and Ben & Jerry’s. They also spotlighted the big-name CEOs like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (who signed the ad under his lesser-known company Square Inc.) and Diane von Fürstenberg. 

This press coverage implied that corporate America was taking a liberal position on abortion just as it had on LGBTQ rights. But not a single CEO of the Fortune 500—the largest American corporations—signed. With a few exceptions, the signers of the pro-abortion ad are CEOs of small, privately held startups. Many of the businesses have fewer than 50 employees and some are sole proprietorships. Most are headquartered on the coasts, where they are unaffected by the recent pro-life laws. 

Aug. 25 marks a big movie anniversary. On that day in 1939 moviegoers across the United States watched in Technicolor as the fearsome Wizard of Oz, flanked by columns of fire, snarled at a scarecrow, a tin man, a cowardly lion, and Dorothy Gale of Kansas. But Dorothy’s dog Toto sniffed out the truth: The great and powerful wizard was really an unimpressive con man pulling levers. Eighty years later, Big Media and abortion advocates are similarly making abortion-promoting CEOs seem wizardly.

Dorsey: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images • Yelp: Kathy Willens/AP • Diane Von Fürstenberg: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

From left, Jack Dorsey, Yelp’s Manhattan offices, and Diane von Fürstenberg. (Dorsey: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images • Yelp: Kathy Willens/AP • Diane Von Fürstenberg: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

DON’T BAN EQUALITY SIGNER Susan McPherson is CEO of the New York–based communications firm McPherson Strategies, founded in 2013. The group’s website calls McPherson “the consummate connector” and “one of the best connected people in the social good world.” Her firm edited the ad for its client, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and sponsors Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The ad’s messaging aligns closely with McPherson’s personal values. She told me, “Companies in the United States are put in perilous situations because they will not be able to treat men and women equally. … It’s much easier to hire a man than to have to deal with [pregnancy].”

McPherson connected Aday’s Faulhaber to the ad. Faulhaber co-founded her New York– and London-based clothing brand in 2015. She met McPherson at a dinner organized by Shiza Shahid, a young and influential female CEO who sought to bring together like-minded business owners.

Jan Haas/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

Susan McPherson speaking during the Digital-Life-Design Conference in Munich, Germany. (Jan Haas/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

Kristin Hull, who founded her Oakland-based investment firm in 2013, also identified McPherson as a primary figure in making the ad happen. Hull belongs to a group of female CEOs who decided to sign together. Hull said bluntly, “Why should we have businesses in states that are doing terrible things?” She did not see any downside to signing. Even if there is a “backlash of some kind,” she said, her firm wouldn’t want to “work with those people” if they don’t share her values.

Unlike Hull’s firm, other businesses on the list sell directly to consumers, and many share a similar market. The New York–based sex toy company Dame Products—founded in 2014—is one of these direct-to-consumer businesses. CEO Alexandra Fine learned about the ad through fellow signer Meika Hollender, CEO of the women’s hygiene product company Sustain Natural. 

In May, Hollender, Fine, and five other CEOs from underwear, skin care, sex education, and feminine hygiene product companies signed an earlier New York Times ad addressing the abortion issue. Under the headline “Abortion Is,” this May 21 ad listed nine qualities of abortion, including that it is “a constitutional right” and “not up for debate.” It read, “Today, we loudly and boldly declare that we will not be silent in defense of fundamental human rights and we challenge our peers in the business community to do the same.”

Richard B. Levine/Newscom

Customers line up on opening day of &pizza in New York City. (Richard B. Levine/Newscom)

Six of the seven CEOs who signed the May ad also endorsed the “Don’t Ban Equality” ad published less than three weeks later. These six run private California- or New York–based brands that started in or after 2013. The business of the nonsigning CEO is based in Nashville, Tenn.

Many of the ad-signing CEOs share personal or professional connections. Some meet annually at the “stunningly serene” Learning Lab of Eileen Fisher (an ad signer). Another business on the list is Rebellious PR & Consulting, a “boutique PR agency” in Portland, Ore., that started in 2016 and manages public relations for at least six of the other signers.

Many businesses on the list share a hipster aesthetic, “woke” brand messaging, and a focus on self-expression. On its careers page, &pizza (a D.C.-based restaurant chain) states: “We embrace being ourselves at all times. We stand out. We invite others to do the same. We don’t fake it.” The brand promises potential employees, “No preconceived judgment about your proper place. We take you for you.” Among &pizza’s listed benefits: free pizza and tattoos.

Great and powerful influencers? When the Don’t Ban Equality ad came out on June 10, a related website listed 187 companies said to employ 108,000 workers. By July 10, the number of signers had nearly doubled, but the employee count had only increased to 129,000—an average of fewer than 400 employees per business. (One signer, the Swedish company H&M, has almost 600 U.S. stores, and that pulls up the average number.) 

The “Don’t Ban Equality” ad in the June 10 edition of The New York Times

WHY DIDN’T ANY FORTUNE  500 CEOS sign the pro-abortion ad? I asked representatives of nine of their companies why their corporate names were on an ad advocating LGBTQ positions but not one promoting abortion. Only Amazon.com responded: “These are lists/letters on two different issues so I’m not sure I understand the connection you are trying to make.” 

Thomas Strobhar, an investment adviser and chairman of Life Decisions International, has been pushing back on corporate support of abortion for three decades. He suggested that Fortune 500 companies didn’t sign “Don’t Ban Equality” because they realize the sensitivity of the abortion issue and don’t want to touch it. As public companies, they—in contrast to the mostly small, private businesses that signed—have more to lose by alienating a portion of their customer base.

Looking at the companies that do appear on the list, Strobhar said, “These are not economic heavyweights here, folks.” Most of them, he said, are unrecognizable in the business world. Investment company CEO Kristin Hull acknowledged that large companies may have business reasons for not signing the abortion ad. Still, she said, “There’s no excuse for them not to sign.” In her case, she said, her business is small, she can do what she wants, and signing barely required a thought.

In some ways the failure of the ad to attract big corporate buy-in was a defeat, but the press—like Oz’s flame-throwing apparatus—turned it into a spectacle. Among the outlets reporting the purported breakthrough: CBS, CNBC, CNN, HuffPost, Forbes, Fortune, The Week, and Adweek. The Daily Caller was typical in reporting how “business leaders banded together.” It quoted the now-fired CEO of Planned Parenthood, Leana Wen: “We are grateful and inspired to have so many business leaders standing with us proudly and publicly.”

Leah Hickman is a World Journalism Institute graduate


 

iStock

(iStock)

Pressuring women

National and regional pro-life groups have long heard activists meld abortion and women’s professional success. Attorney Katie Glenn of Americans United for Life (AUL) said this misconception stems from a tendency to “define equality on men’s terms.” As she explained, fatherhood rarely interrupts a man’s career, and abortion purportedly gives that freedom to women.

Glenn criticizes this perspective: “If we’re talking about choice, what about the choice to have a family?” She said the “Don’t Ban Equality” ad shows abortions, rather than being helpful to women, are “a benefit for employers who find employees with families inconvenient.”

Handout

Glenn (Handout)

If the signing CEOs are truly pro-choice, their companies should offer generous benefits for pregnant and nursing mothers. Federal law already requires businesses with 50 or more employees to give a mother 12 weeks unpaid leave and, once she returns to work, an acceptable location and time off to pump milk. A business that prioritizes choice will surpass these requirements.

I contacted 44 of the “Don’t Ban Equality” businesses to see how their maternity benefits measure up. Eighteen replied, but 11 of those declined to comment. Amanda Jacobsmeyer, the public relations representative of “gender-neutral underwear” company TomboyX, said, “Their main concern is that WORLD Magazine appears to be more conservative leaning. … A conservative Christian pub probably doesn’t have the right audience reading to make it high priority to carve out time for.”

The seven companies that did respond all claimed to provide paid parental leave with durations ranging from six to 16 weeks. (All but two have headquarters in California and New York, states that include pregnancy as a disability and fund short-term payment of disability insurance.) Some of the businesses also mentioned nursing rooms, flexible hours, or remote work policies that can ease the back-to-work transition for new mothers.

Glenn says the ad sends a message to female employees: Abortion is the solution to the problems women face in the workplace. Putting herself in the shoes of a young working woman ready to start a family, Glenn said she would be “very uncomfortable” to see her employer’s name on the ad. —L.H.

Leah Hickman

Leah Hickman

Leah is a WORLD Magazine reporter.

Comments

  • Janet B
    Posted: Fri, 08/02/2019 09:53 am

    In reading the comments of these CEOs, I am reminded of Henry Higgins' lament: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

    And I fail to see how this attitude allows women equality in business as a woman. 

    These young CEOs don't get it. 

  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 08/02/2019 04:57 pm

    A public relations rep’s job is to maintaining a positive image to the public. I guess Amanda Jacobsmeyer is lacking in the ability to even try to project a positive image to conservatives.

  •  Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Thu, 08/15/2019 12:10 am

    It s amazing that we live in a so-called modern society where almost nothing big media says is true.  The whole equality debate is false. Feminism is a lie.  Abortion is murder.  Men and women are equal in value, but we are very different.  We should be celebrating and praising God for our differences.  Instead this world is at war with God.