Three Ways Industry Leaders Must Step Up to Protect Their Employees’ Basic Human Rights

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By Maggie Malek, CEO, MMI

Business leaders have an obligation to protect their employees and safeguard basic human rights. As a female CEO in Texas, we are now facing a crisis that requires clear and decisive action to meet those obligations.

The recent leak of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, along with legislation that threatens the rights of women and LBGTQ+ people in many states, creates an imperative for leaders in our industry to tell employees – as well as clients and peers – that when it comes to basic rights, we will not sit on the sidelines.

As advisers to brands, we are not in the business of choosing sides in a political debate. Rather, as leaders of people, CEOs and other executives need to meet the moment and take meaningful steps to ensure the safety and protection of those who rely on us.

Here are three ways agency leaders can respond to the threats many Americans now face.

Help Level the Playing Field

As an agency based in Texas, many of our employees live under particularly restrictive laws, which will likely only become more repressive should the Supreme Court overturn Roe. Residents of dozens of other states face similar challenges.

Abortion rights stand at risk of more severe restrictions and potentially bans, a slippery slope that threatens a much broader range of reproductive healthcare services.

That means that agency employees  in different parts of the country have unequal access to healthcare. It is incumbent upon us to correct that imbalance by providing employees comprehensive access to the healthcare they need. This includes paying for travel for those seeking healthcare, including abortion services, if their states do not provide it.

Use Your Platform to Lead

People often ask: why live in a place like Texas if abortion, say, or trans rights, are so important? Why live in Texas? The fact is that millions of Texans and citizens of other states where these rights are threatened, do not agree with these laws and also do not have the resources or inclination to leave.

As a business leader in a state where these fundamental human rights are under attack, there is an obligation to stay and do your part to help employees facing these challenges. We watched with horror when a woman was charged with murder over a so-called “self-induced abortion.” Business and civic leaders need to stand up and fight for those who may not have the power – or the microphone – to be heard themselves. Sign on to the Don’t Ban Equality statement and encourage your clients and partners to do the same.

Practice What We Preach

Those in the advertising industry understand the power of symbols and messaging. Brands are quick to post on social media to support International Women’s Day or put a rainbow flag over their Twitter avatar for Pride Month.

These displays of solidarity are wonderful but they mean nothing if we don’t put action behind them. As an example, if you say you support your employees’ mental health, for instance, provide them the tools and autonomy to live their lives free of the kinds of threats that cause emotional trauma.

The Bottom Line

I served eight years in the US Army Reserves because I believe in fighting for the fundamental principle of equality. It is not easy for people whose rights are threatened to speak up, particularly when their livelihoods — or worse — are at stake.

But that is what leaders must do. If not, we are leaders no more. I truly believe we cannot go backwards now. Our bodies. Our choice.