Will The Latest Affirmative Action Education Ruling Trickle Into The Workplace?
Career & Money

Will The Latest Affirmative Action Education Ruling Trickle Into The Workplace?

The Supreme Court recently ruled that colleges and universities can no longer consider race as a specific basis for granting admission— a landmark decision that overturned a major legal precedent that has benefited Black and Latinx students in higher education.

And while, according to CNN, the majority opinion “claims that the court was not expressly overturning prior cases authorizing race-based affirmative action” and did not “end race-based affirmative action in higher education,” the recent analysis will make it “practically impossible” for colleges and universities to consider race in ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to attend top colleges around the U.S.

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Supporters of the high court’s decision to roll back affirmative action efforts have argued that such programs are illegal, adding that colleges and universities should focus on “equal standards and merit.” Opponents of the ruling, like the NAACP and Lawyers For Civil Rights, are outraged, now challenging institutions to stop “legacy admissions'' — policies that favor white wealthy alumni. (Lawyers for Civil Rights has even filed a lawsuit specifically against Harvard University related to this.)

Experts are also exploring how the June 29 ruling will trickle into cases of affirmative action in other areas of education and, particularly, how the ruling will affect diversity and inclusion efforts related to employment.

But will the ruling take all of us 10 more steps back when it comes to diversity and inclusion–an issue that already includes strong elements of lackluster enforcement, gaslighting, and dangerous cliches?

Will corporations and other organizations now deem it appropriate to totally disregard the specific, fundamental benefits and integrity involved in deliberate efforts to recruit and hire Black and Brown professionals, especially in industries ravaged by diversity problems (hey, tech industry!)

According to The New York Times, the Supreme Court’s decision “opens the door for employees — and conservative activists — to bring legal challenges to those policies” and could “lead companies to alter recruitment and promotion practices to pre-empt legal challenges.” The Times also reports that more than 60 large companies, including automaker GM and Meta (the parent company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp), have also “warned the Supreme Court that ending affirmative action in higher education would make it harder to build diverse workforces.”

We all know that when you’re a super-qualified, educated, and experienced Black professional denied a position that you’re clearly qualified for—yet see that a company’s About and LinkedIn pages include zero Black and Brown faces–there’s an inference of bias and big fodder for a discrimination lawsuit that could snowball into a class action suit that includes hundreds of job candidates.

And, according to Bloomberg Law, several major employers pushed for the high court to uphold affirmative action policies—which makes sense because corporate diversity and inclusion efforts at major corporations “often rely on college admissions programs that produce a diverse pipeline of qualified future workers and business leaders.”

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A few key voices offering opinions on all of this say there might be a silver lining when it comes to diversity in employment practices after the ruling. Companies that are truly committed to diversity and inclusion have leaders that have committed years of real action and receipts that reflect actual diversity and inclusion support and community-building resources at work, have Black and Hispanic professionals in top decision-making positions, and support initiatives that support the advancement and professional development of Black and Brown professionals.

However, Corporate America is still disproportionately unequal in many impactful and life-changing ways and still must work harder to ensure diversity and inclusion.

In the same way that some progressive companies adjusted to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, for example, providing alternative policies that support women in their choices in childbirth, experts are saying HR professionals and corporate heads who are supportive of diversity efforts will find alternatives. “Just like companies who provided employees with resources like travel expenses following last year’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, there will also be companies who will reimagine their DEI programs and potentially increase investment,” Neeta Mehta, a partner at executive search firm Bridge Partners, told Fortune in a statement.

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Other solutions are pointing to HBCUs, which are reportedly expecting an uptick in enrollment and recruitment after the ruling. “Our HBCUs are just as critical today as they ever have been, if not more," Hampton University’s NAACP president Gaylene Kanoyton told 13News Now. "We have historically, and we will always welcome any student who wants to walk through Hampton's doors.”

HBCUs are now “positioned” to fill the gap that the affirmative action ruling is expected to widen in educational opportunities. And while they aren’t the end-all-be-all solution to addressing the fallout of the ruling that has set equality efforts back tremendously, companies and small businesses still committed to diversity could do well by further supporting and recruiting from these institutions.

The Brookings Institute reports that “although HBCUs represent only 3% of all four-year institutions, they account for 10% of all matriculating Black students, and awarded 17% of all bachelor’s degrees and 24% of all STEM-related bachelor’s degrees to Black students in 2019.”

That being said, only time will tell what is next for diversity efforts and employment of Black and Brown professionals, especially women, who already face very unbalanced scales in pay, employment, and advancement. As lawsuits are sparked, activists and advocates continue their work to address the aftermath of the decision, and companies continue to struggle with current policies, the future of Black and Brown professionals remains one of mixed outcomes and potential.

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