Affirmative Action Can Be Undone in Higher Education: Are Workplaces Next?

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court spent nearly five hours of pleading discuss race-conscious admissions policies at colleges and universities, with a particular focus on Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. In an ironic and interesting twist of fate, although the Supreme Court is more racially diverse than it has ever been, it is likely that they end affirmative action in higher education. The conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court holds the power to overturn decades-old precedent, which could impact Black and Hispanic students are the most numerous. Six of the nine justices are likely to rule in favor of ending affirmative action programs. If the Supreme Court votes to end race-conscious admissions policies, it will have a negative impact on racial diversity. 15 years ago, two of the nation’s top universities, the University of Michigan and the University of California, were barred from using race-conscious admissions policies. Since then, the two university systems have struggle to build a racially diverse student body. Some reviews of affirmative action claim that it causes reverse discrimination against white people. In the United States, division, polarization and pushback against “woke ideology” seem to have deepened since the Trump Presidency. Lawmakers in several states have denounced the teaching of critical race theory (even if it was not to be taught in K-12 schools) and in states like Florida, Governor DeSantis has sentenced teaching “divisive issues” such as anti-racism, systemic racism, white supremacy.

At Monday’s meeting, Judge Clarence Thomas noticed that he “hasn’t the faintest idea” of what diversity means. It is difficult to find a solution to diversity when there is no uniform agreement on what diversity really is. Diversity has become a swear word. Certainly, there is better terminology available to describe the specific challenge of recruiting underrepresented talent. Terminology is not the only problem. The reversal of affirmative action could extend beyond education – workplaces could be next. Discouraging workplace policies that consider a candidate’s race and ethnicity can have deleterious effects on the talent pool. Companies are already struggling to attract and recruit Black, latin and Native Talent. Evidence suggests that affirmative action policies increase the number of women and underrepresented racial groups. Race-neutral policies will create more barriers when it comes to attracting and recruiting underrepresented talent, which is what past with the University of Michigan and the University of California.

There is an overwhelming amount of research outlining the benefits of diversity. Diverse environments are more Creative and innovative. From a profitability perspective, diversity wins. A 2014 McKinsey study found that racial/ethnic and gender diversity lead to better financial returns; these discoveries were later replica in 2019. Diverse teams also outperform more homogeneous teams, to research suggests. Diversity initiatives and race-friendly practices are not without flaws, but they shouldn’t be discounted altogether. Initiatives that have been created to increase diversity should not become a ticking activity that organizations and institutions engage in as a form of performative activism. Affirmative action was not created so that members of historically marginalized groups would receive some kind of “unfair advantage”. The policy was created to correct the systemic racism that prevented people from oppressed communities from having equal opportunities. As mentioned, affirmative action programs are not always perfect; Wells Fargo led fake job interviews in their quest for more diversity and affirmative action policies have benefited white women more than any other group. The United States is a country that prides itself on being a melting pot where anyone can get their slice of the proverbial pie. Diversity is one of the things that makes America great, and the rejection of race-friendly policies and practices will weaken both the education system and the modern workplace. With each passing day, the threats that seek to disrupt the fabric of America seem to grow.