Why companies with female CEOs are not leading the fight for abortion

My former debating partner, Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld ("Outrage over AIG Bonuses") recently published research looking at “first movers,” i.e. companies which were first at “stepping up” ("A list of companies supporting abortion rights after the Roe v. Wade ruling shows which leaders are stepping up, and why") to oppose the reversal of Roe v. Wade. He found some things that may surprise those who see abortion support as a ‘women’s issue.’ For example:

In fact, only 15% of these first mover companies are led by women CEOs. More broadly, only 8.8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and so far only 5 of those 44 women-led companies have supported travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

It’s not just a matter of companies with women in the top management positions. The same pattern holds when it comes to boards of directors:

We also found that these first-mover companies did not have significantly more women on their boards of directors or in their ranks of senior management compared to their peers. 

Why this would surprise anyone is beyond me. It should come as nosurprise that male-managed and male-governed companies are driving the pro-abortion phalanx of corporate America. No group more directly benefits from abortion than powerful men who are able to use the procedure to rid themselves of the unwanted results of their sexual encounters. And no group of people (other than unborn people) are more exploited by abortion than the women who must live with a lifetime of open or suppressed guilt.

The most simple explanation for corporate abortion politics is not gender, and not even the ideology of the companies, but rather public posturing to pander to certain commercial interests. Companies that speak out against protections for the unborn are overwhelmingly domiciled in states that are highly unlikely to meaningfully protect the unborn:

We found that amazingly, only 9 of the 101 first-movers were companies that are headquartered in “red states,” which we define as states where Republicans control both the legislature and the governor’s office. 

The only amazing thing about this finding is that the authors would find it amazing. Corporate political declarations are acts of public posing: words, not deeds, to “be seen of men.” Once one sees this as an act of pandering to hyper-organized employee groups, as opposed to managing the non-existent risk that New York, Illinois, or California are going to illegalize abortion and create a worker shortage for women, then the pattern makes perfect sense.

Notably, companies domiciled in red states were less likely to speak out in favor of abortion rights. This makes self-interest sense as well. The Disney precedent shows that red states are no longer going to be a cheap date for gigantic corporations who see the GOP as a reliable provider of tax cuts, deregulation, and special legal protections, while the companies play the field with the sexual revolution wing of the Democrats.

The Sonnenfeld study also makes a fascinating observation which deserves more attention than he gave it: pointing out that tech, then finance, then professional services firms, were the top three categories of companies which “stepped up."

The image of these firms as progressive on social issues is vital to attracting the tens of thousands of socially conscious Gen Y recruits they require to feed their pyramidic staffing and business models.

That staff pyramiding observation is important. As tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel has pointed out, in many cases these industries, such as professional services, have become a kind of pyramid scheme in which young people take on grueling workloads, starting with abusive graduate school assistantships and inhuman hours in order to, eventually, land that elusive future partnership. That’s a system that worked to some degree in a rapidly growing economy, but in our slow-growth, demographic decline system, it becomes something more like a legal Ponzi scheme, in which the rewards are reaped by the early entrants at the expense of later entrants.

In such an environment, sex as a system of blow-off-the-stress of the slow-growth rat race, and abortion as a tool to discard the pyramid-staffing career interruption, makes perfect sense for the CEO, while making no real sense at all to the nation as a whole, and even less sense for the young women towards whom this rhetorical virtue signaling is offered.

Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”

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