Supreme Court Ruling Casts Shadow On The Future Of College — And Corporate — Diversity

Zinger Key Points
  • The ruling may hurt corporate efforts to build diverse workforces; McKinsey found ethnically diverse teams outperformed others by 36%.
  • 82 major corporations backed race as a factor in admissions, citing it as crucial for creating diverse, high-performing workplaces.

In a decision that could reshape the landscape of higher education and consequently, corporate America, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Thursday that the affirmative action admission policies of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) are unconstitutional.

The 6-2 ruling in the Harvard case and the 6-3 verdict for the UNC case are seen as setbacks to decades-long efforts to boost the enrollment of racial minorities at American universities, fueling concerns about the diversity of future corporate talent pools.

Exactly 82 corporations, including giants such as Apple Inc AAPL, Alphabet Inc GOOG GOOGL, Meta Platforms Inc META, Starbucks Corp SBUX, Microsoft Corp MSFT, supported the use of race as a factor in admissions processes.

They argued in amicus briefs submitted to the courts that racial and ethnic diversity enriched student experience and eventually led to more diverse workplaces that “enhance business performance.” The companies emphasized their collective reliance on universities to cultivate racially diverse student bodies, creating a diverse and highly educated pool of job candidates.

“The government’s interest in promoting student-body diversity on university campuses remains compelling from a business perspective,” the companies wrote in 2022. The Supreme Court’s decision could now undermine efforts to build diverse corporate workforces.

But the value of diverse workforces isn't just moral; it’s economic, too.

A 2019 McKinsey analysis found that companies with ethnically diverse teams outperformed their less diverse counterparts by 36%. Similarly, the potential retreat from diversity could make it harder to retain top talent.

And, a 2022 survey from GoodHire showed that a majority of U.S. workers view a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) positively, noting that many would leave their jobs if their employers ignored DEI principles.

While the ruling doesn’t apply directly to employers, its implications might influence corporate DEI initiatives.

Some politicians, such as Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, have already taken steps to restrict training that addresses workplace bias or promotes diversity, according to Bloomberg.

Reacting to the court’s decision, former President Barack Obama underscored the importance of redoubling efforts toward justice: “Affirmative action was never a complete answer in the drive towards a more just society,” he said in a tweet. “But for generations of students who had been systematically excluded from most of America's key institutions — it gave us the chance to show we more than deserved a seat at the table.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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Posted In: Large CapNewsEducationTopicsLegalGeneralaffirmative actionBarack ObamaHarvardRon DeSantisSupreme CourtUniversity of North Carolina
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