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Want to close Seattle tech's gender gap? Start with health care

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A scene from the Seattle Women's March in January.

Seattle-area companies have a woman problem. The Seattle area is home to many significant global companies (Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, Expedia, T-Mobile, Zillow, Valve), and is a hub for many more. Yet, as many of us know, women are dramatically underrepresented in senior leadership roles. In technology, which increasingly fuels Seattle’s economy, the problems are only getting worse. In 1990, women held 35 percent of computing jobs. By 2013, only 26 percent of computing jobs were held by women.

There are many reasons for this, but one important contributing factor: while child-care tasks can be shared, only women get pregnant. Any serious effort to work towards greater gender equity needs to take that biologic fact into account. The time is right for Puget Sound’s tech companies, who once took a stand for LGBTQ employees’ health rights, to stand up for women employees and their health as well.

Access to reproductive health services, including contraception, is under direct attack at both the federal and state level for women across the country.  Before gutting a key contraceptive-related provision of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump chose Teresa Manning to run family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Manning’s views can best be summed up by her own words: “Contraception doesn’t work.”

Here in Washington state, where voters enacted a Reproductive Privacy Act to protect access to reproductive health services back in 1991, service access is still under threat due both to the constant attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding and the growth of Catholic health systems, which now make up about 45 percent of our health system and which specifically prohibit common reproductive health services.

Leaders in the field of reproductive health know that women in corporate jobs rarely want to speak out publicly about their own reproductive health issues. Rather, they want the focus to be on their competencies and strengths and not on their vulnerabilities as restrictions on health services grow. But behind the scenes, women are deeply engaged.

All of which makes it increasingly important that companies seeking to attract and support women step up to protect their rights and health.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, tech companies played a critical role in supporting their gay employees by providing health benefits for gay partners and by implementing anti-discrimination policies. More recently, leaders from the corporate sector stepped forward to speak out against the cruel and unfair treatment of gay and transgender people, as individual states raced to adopt laws targeting gay and transgender people.

Today, tech companies should protect the health of women employees through policy, just as they continue to support gay employees and their families. Here’s what your company can do:

1) Make sure all forms of contraceptives are 100 percent covered, with no co-pays or deductibles, regardless of which method an employee chooses or where she chooses to get it. Companies should also commit to providing insurance coverage for over-the-counter formulations of birth control pills.

2) Provide insurance coverage for ALL women's OB-GYN procedures without restriction and require coverage networks to include providers that can offer women the full spectrum of reproductive health care. This is especially important here in Washington state, where almost half the health care system is subject to religious rules that forbid certain types of reproductive health care.

3) Make clear to policymakers that your company supports legislation and policy that supports women’s access to reproductive health services. A simple standard a company should use in figuring out whether or not to oppose restrictive legislation: Is this a burden shared equally by men? Can men be imprisoned for getting a health procedure or taking medication recommended by a major physician's group as a necessary, appropriate and integral part of men's health care? If not, how can it ever be fair that a woman can?

Today, Seattle-area companies proudly and publicly embrace gay-friendly policies, which is a wonderful development. Companies can similarly celebrate their support of female employees through the adoption of common sense health care benefits and policies, and by making clear to politicians that administrative rules and legislation that target women’s health will affect how and where companies choose to invest.

  

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Want to close Seattle tech's gender gap? Start with health care