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

The Supreme Court of the United States spent nearly five hours of oral argument on Monday discussing 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, it is likely that the Supreme Court end affirmative action in higher education despite its composition—four women, two African Americans, and one Latina—as the most diverse in history. The vast conservative majority on the Supreme Court has the power to reverse decades-old precedent, which could impact Black and Hispanic students are the most.

However, the nullification of affirmative action could extend beyond education: workplaces may be next. Six of the nine judges 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.

At Monday’s meeting, Judge Clarence Thomas commented who “has no idea” what diversity means. It is difficult to work towards a diversity solution when there is no uniform agreement on what diversity really is. Diversity has become a dirty word.

It is true that there is better terminology available to describe the specific challenge of recruiting underrepresented talent. Terminology is not the only problem. Daunting workplace policies that take into account the race and ethnicity of candidates can have detrimental effects on the talent pool. Companies already have a hard time attracting and recruiting Black, Latin Y Indigenous talent. Evidence suggests that affirmative action policies increase the number of women and underrepresented racial groups. Racial neutrality policies will create more barriers when it comes to attracting and recruiting underrepresented talent, which is what happened with the University of Michigan and the University of California.

Fifteen years ago, two of the best universities in the country, the University of Michigan and the University of California, were prohibited from using race-conscious admissions policies. Since then, both university systems have fought to build a racially diverse student body. Some critics Affirmative action claims that it causes reverse discrimination against whites. Within the US, division, polarization, and pushback against awakened ideology seems to have gotten stronger since trump presidency. Legislators in several states have denounced the teaching of critical race theory (although it was not be taught in K-12 schools) and in states like Florida, Governor DeSantis has condemned teaching “divisive issues” like anti-racism, systemic racism, white supremacy.

There is an overwhelming amount of research highlighting the benefits of diversity. Environments that are diverse are more creative Y innovative. From a profitability standpoint, diversity wins. 2014 McKinsey study found that racial/ethnic and gender diversity lead to higher financial returns; these findings were later replicated in 2019. Diverse teams also outperform more homogeneous teams, research suggests. Diversity initiatives and race-conscious practices are not without their flaws, but they shouldn’t be discounted outright. Initiatives that were created to increase diversity should not become a tick-the-box activity that organizations and institutions get involved in as a way of performative activism.

As mentioned, affirmative action programs are not always perfect; Wells Fargo made fake job interviews in their quest for more diversity and affirmative action policies have benefited white women more than any other group.

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 systemic racism that prevented people from oppressed communities from having equal opportunities. America is a country that prides itself on being a melting pot where anyone can get their piece of the proverbial pie. Diversity is one of the things that makes America so great, and discarding racially conscious policies and practices will undermine both the education system and the modern workplace.

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