In the ultra-competitive world of tech hiring, some employers are trying to recruit with this offer: Work for us, and you won’t have to work in Texas. That’s the idea behind a just-announced virtual job fair hosted by ten Silicon Valley communications firms that declare the Lone Star State is imposing “reckless vigilante justice on women’s bodies.”
Called PRoviding Choices, the effort targets tech-focused public relations professionals and launches November 4. The idea is being promoted in part by Curtis Sparrer, who grew up in Dallas, studied at the University of Texas at Austin, and now heads Bospar, a tech-focused PR firm in San Francisco. “As a native Texan, I feel ashamed of what we’re doing to women,” Sparrer says.
Bospar helped organize the job fair after it offered to pay relocation costs for any of its six Texas-based employees who want to move because of the state law that effectively bans abortions more than six weeks into a pregnancy and offers bounties of $10,000 to anyone who sues a Texan who aids in an abortion after that time frame. (So far, no employees have taken Bospar up on the offer.) Soon after Bospar announced its relocation payment plan, San Francisco tech giant Salesforce, a $300 billion customer relationship management software firm that has one thousand Texas workers, also offered relocation money.
Other companies also have offered to support workers affected by the abortion law. Austin-based Bumble and the CEO of Dallas-based Match Group, both online dating companies, have set up funds that support pro-choice groups and offer financial support for employees who wish to leave the state for abortions. MotoRefi, a Washington, D.C.–based tech startup that has 75 employees in Texas—20 percent of its workforce—has offered relocation expenses. Kevin Bennett, MotoRefi’s CEO, says, “several team members right away said they were interested in relocating out of the state” but that so far none have moved.
There’s no sign for now that the new law is prompting a reverse of the trend that has led tens of thousands of tech workers from California and other states to decamp for Texas in recent years. Still, Texas’s shifting politics are making some individual workers in tech—a traditionally politically progressive industry—reconsider living in the Lone Star State, whether their companies have offered to move them out or not.
Jason McKenzie, 47, a sales engineer for Dallas-based Gig Wage, a payroll technology startup, has already left. The fifth-generation Texan had worked for several tech companies in Austin, including Dell, Oracle, SolarWinds, and VMWare before relocating to Minneapolis in September, just after the abortion law went into effect. That, as well as the state’s other political shifts on issues such as mask mandates, played a significant role in his departure. “The things that have happened this year are kind of the nail in the coffin,” says McKenzie, who moved along with his girlfriend, a Presbyterian minister originally from Kansas who had been working at a church outside Austin. “The Texas that I grew up in is just not the Texas that it is now. It’s always been a conservative state. But in the last four or five years, it’s just gotten more and more extreme.”
Christina Trapolino and her husband Oliver Meek, both tech workers in Austin, have similar misgivings about staying in the state. They haven’t made any final decisions, but have been talking about leaving Texas ever since they spent four days without power after last February’s blackout, caused by the state’s failure to require energy companies to insulate their equipment against cold temperatures. That left the couple with concerns about the state’s leadership that have grown exponentially in recent months as the state restricted abortion rights and voting rights, and blocked private companies from adopting measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “It seems like Texas is a test bed for all the most extreme versions of all this stuff,” says Trapolino, a 35-year-old Texas native who works as senior engineer at Reputation, which offers a digital customer feedback platform to clients. Adds Meek, a 42-year-old British native and account executive at the inventory management startup LeanDNA, “It’s like we’re in the pilot of The Handmaid’s Tale.”
While couples such as Trapolino and Meek fret over what to do, some tech recruiters say Texas’s politics have so far had little significant impact on the migration of companies and tech workers into the state. “We haven’t seen any change at all,” said Allen Goldsmith, managing partner at Austin-based Technology Navigators, which employs tech recruiters in Austin and Houston. “In fact, we’re busier than we were six months ago.”
Even though tech workers are often believed to lean left, they tend to go where the work is, analysts say. And in recent years, some of the biggest names in tech, including Apple, Google, and Oracle, have been expanding in Texas, while Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric car company, announced this month that it was relocating its headquarters from California to Austin.
Governor Greg Abbott even cited Musk in a September interview with CNBC in which he insisted that the newly enacted abortion law “is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas at all” but was accelerating business relocations, especially from California, the state Musk left when he personally moved to Texas last year. “Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas,” Abbott told CNBC. In response, Musk tweeted, “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness. That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”
Even if some tech companies do continue to expand and relocate to Texas, though, some believe they could find it harder to recruit workers—especially female workers—over the long term if legislators or the courts don’t overturn abortion restrictions. Women in tech would likely be able to afford to work around some of those restrictions—whether that means flying to other states for abortions or having the means to fight lawsuits filed against them—but the idea that they might have to do so is anathema to many, analysts say. Ray Perryman, CEO of the Perryman Group, an economic consultancy in Waco, says both male and female tech workers “overwhelmingly prefer locations with more inclusive policies,” including policies affecting reproductive rights. And Ali Tejani, marketing manager at Austin tech recruiting company SOAL Technologies, says Texas’ abortion laws will eventually “be a big blow, at least to women in the tech industry. I think our hiring clients are going to see a shift of demographics in terms of staff. That’s not going to make our job easier.”
That’s just what Sparrer’s company and others in the job fair that begins November 4 are counting on. “It’s not going to be immediate, but very quickly there’s going to be a growing disinterest in moving to Texas,” Sparrer says. “We want to show that businesses are going to be rewarded for taking a stand against this abortion law.”