Stand and address the womb: How your brand can speak the right way on sensitive issues like abortion rights

— Sophia Brockman 

We’ve all seen the recent news of a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion for overturning Roe v. Wade, which would represent a significant rolling back of abortion rights for women in the U.S. and is predicted to contribute to the erosion of the steady progress for greater abortion rights worldwide.
To this end, the legality of abortion is naturally spreading to media and legislators in Australia, creating pressure for brands on the other side of the world to take a stand.

The globalisation of social issues is yet another reason why if you have customers, employees, or partners affected by abortion rights anywhere in the world: this advice is for you.

A whopping 90% of consumer and business leader respondents to WE’s 2021 Brands in Motion research expect brands to be clear about what they stand for. Nearly three-quarters (71%) feel brands are obligated to address social or global issues when they impact a business’s stakeholders, not just their business.

We know, it can be incredibly tempting to stay silent or neutral on such a controversial topic, but the people have spoken. It is far more damaging to your brand reputation to avoid addressing an issue impacting your stakeholders. Consumers will see this as self-preservation, not impartiality.

Just ask Sony, who found itself in the online spotlight after an internal email from PlayStation president Jim Ryan asked employees to “respect differences of opinion” on abortion before moving on to light mentions of his pet’s birthday.

A PR agency whose clients include many large multinationals also went viral for a leaked memo consulting clients to avoid taking a stance. Further context was given to the situation, but the initial heat still demonstrates the public’s expectation for brands to take a stand and willingness to criticise those who try and stay neutral to protect their brand over the welfare of their stakeholders.


So how do you take a stand on the issues impacting your customers without:

  1. Accusations of woke washing.
  2. Alienating employees, customers and investors who don’t share your values.

Step 1 - Create consistency.


Define your brand’s stance on key local and global social issues impacting your people, partners and customers before inevitable headlines regarding these topics hit your market. These should be mapped against your purpose, values and social responsibility strategy and displayed prominently on your brand’s owned channels for transparency.

Clearly defining and communicating where your brand stands on hot button issues ahead of the headlines will naturally attract employees, customers and partners that share your values over time and create brand heritage with the issue that will contribute to your real-time responses being perceived as authentic.


Step 2 - Accept the inevitable.

In the modern world where consumers expect brands to take a stance, accusations of woke-washing and cries to boycott are inevitable. Be prepared to defend your position on sensitive issues with real proof points to how your brand consistently supports its employees, customers and communities on the issue, including investment figures and tangible case studies that challenge any woke washing claims.

Creating a reactive comms messaging framework that anticipates critical responses to your brand’s social impact advocacy and action will allow you to quickly respond to the inevitable naysayers with courage in your conviction.


Step 3 - Compliment advocacy with action.

Any statements made regarding social issues impacting your stakeholders should be paired with meaningful action – or at the least a clear intent on future action.

With a simple scenario planning exercise, brands can identify the social issues relevant to their stakeholders and industry, align on the brand point of view and messaging for issues scenarios regarding each, and identify indicative operational or social responsibility actions your brand is willing and able to take at a moment’s notice.

For example, pre-approving rapid changes to employee policies or benefits that will support your people affected by social issues can be a simple way to demonstrate how your brand justifies advocacy with action.

This is by far the most popular response brands have made to the Roe vs. Wade news, with brands from WE Communications itself, to Microsoft, Salesforce, Lyft, Uber, Citigroup, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Levi Strauss & Co, Bumble, Match and more announcing various models of healthcare, relocation, or legal support for their employees.

Alternatively, find outlets for your people, partners and customers to participate in meaningful grassroots action, such as leading the charge in forming a coalition, petition or act of protest. Creating space or handing over your platform to let your affected customers and partners speak for themselves can also be powerful. How can your brand’s owned channels of influence give a voice to your stakeholders?

In the end, the brands that will flourish in 2022 and beyond are the ones with the courage to take bold actions and make strong stances with the full understanding that not everyone will approve. WE Communications has the tools your brand needs to create a purpose platform consistent enough to ground the brand, flexible enough to evolve with the times, and clear enough to navigate the inevitable unknowns. 

The clock isn’t going to turn back, and difficult issues will keep arising. The way forward is to operate not with fear but with curiosity and openness to change. These are not times for the timid, but they are a clarion call to those willing to show up with honesty, vulnerability and unblinking authenticity.


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