February 22, 2024

Conservative attacks are causing companies to rethink their diversity hiring

The same conservative activists who helped push back on race-related college admissions at the U.S. Supreme Court have now set their sights on corporate diversity programs, bombarding airlines, tech giants and law firms with lawsuits and complaints. And they are already having an effect.

The court’s landmark ruling in June against affirmative action on campus did not include companies, many of which launched diversity, equity and inclusion programs after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. But as the conservative movement focuses on DEI, some companies have scaled back their efforts.

Law firms Morrison & Foerster and Perkins Coie have eliminated their diversity requirements for fellowship programs, a common tool for recruiting underrepresented groups. The changes were announced after both companies were sued by legal activist Edward Blum, a longtime enemy of affirmative action who brought the successful lawsuit to the Supreme Court. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. removed race-related requirements from a similar fellowship program after a lawsuit against the program was dismissed.

America First Legal – founded by Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser to President Trump – has filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against more than two dozen companies, including American Airlines Group Inc., Macy’s Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Salesforce Inc. , claiming that their efforts to hire and promote more women and people of color amount to discrimination.

It’s part of a broader conservative-led movement against what some Republican politicians have called “woke capitalism” — corporate policies that focus on issues like diversity, climate change and workers’ rights.

“Organizations need to ask themselves, ‘What is my risk assessment?'” says Samia Kirmani, co-leader of the corporate diversity practice for employer law firm Jackson Lewis. “There is a risk of challenge, a risk of liability, a risk of reputational damage.”

Longtime affirmative action activist Edward Blum, who successfully challenged race-based college admissions policies in the U.S. Supreme Court, is now going after companies with diversity hiring programs that he calls “racially discriminatory.”

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The largest companies that committed to diversity initiatives before 2020 are more likely to stick with their programs, according to interviews with employment lawyers, consultants and diversity executives. Employers who are newer to DEI or haven’t really gotten started yet are more likely to opt out, they said.

“You have to do it because it’s good for your business,” says Karen Horne, former DEI manager at Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. “If you’re just doing it because you want to feel good and tick a box, then you should We’ll have a reason not to do it if people get ‘tired’ of it.”

More than 80% of executives with a corporate responsibility role have either changed the language they use to talk about their work or reduced external communication about their efforts, according to a survey released last month by the Assn was published. of Corporate Citizenship professionals. At the same time, 10% said there has been a decline in their companies’ programs.

Companies have spent less time talking about diversity topics such as race or LGBTQ rights in the wake of the negative backlash, a Bloomberg analysis shows. Still, the number of S&P 100 companies that have publicly set a diversity goal — about half — has remained about the same as in October 2020, shortly after renewed Black Lives Matter protests, according to reports from research firm DiversIQ and Bloomberg News.

Morrison & Foerster said it remains committed to diversity and inclusion. The company said it had begun the process of reviewing its fellowship program before it was sued by Blum’s American Alliance for Equal Rights. The group has since dropped its lawsuit, saying it is satisfied that the firm’s new fellowship will include all law students regardless of race or ethnicity. Perkins Coie, who removed the diversity requirement from his fellowship after a lawsuit, says she, too, has long been committed to building an inclusive workplace.

Blum said in an emailed statement that he has urged other law firms with “similar racially discriminatory programs” to “open their programs to all law students before suing them in federal court.” His group has sent letters to at least three other companies, suing one of them, Winston & Strawn, over diversity grants. Winston & Strawn declined to comment.

“We are legally and morally right, and this entire cottage industry of discrimination under the guise of equity has created significant liability for countless major corporations in the United States,” said Gene Hamilton, general counsel of America First Legal. a statement sent by email. “No American should have to suffer discrimination based on race or gender.”

Some of the accused companies are not giving up.

Hello Alice, which helps small businesses gain fair access to capital, has been named in a lawsuit from America First Legal over a program with Progressive Insurance Co. which provides subsidies to black-owned commercial vehicle companies. Hello Alice co-founder Elizabeth Gore says her company is not breaking the law and has no plans to change the program.

For real estate company Hines Interests, the possibility of being sued is still worth it, said Crystal Castille-Cromedy, senior vice president of talent and chief diversity officer. The Houston-based company is not planning to discontinue its Skyline Scholars program, which launched last year to help freshmen and sophomores from underrepresented groups learn more about commercial real estate, she said. These students are guaranteed an initial interview for the company’s summer internship program.

“I haven’t been put in a position to feel like I’m taking a risk, let alone an unnecessary risk,” Castille-Cromedy said. “We at this organization believe in meritocracy first and foremost, but we also know that we must expand our reach to understand and appreciate where talent comes from.”

The risk is that in the current environment, with many companies cutting jobs, some executives will want to rely on people they already know and have worked with in the past, and that makes it less likely that those people will be diverse, Horne said , the former Warner Bros. executive.

She lost her job at the entertainment studio in June as part of a reorganization, but she doesn’t view her firing as a sign that Warner no longer values ​​DEI. Still, she warns that without a firm commitment, companies risk becoming “fatigued” with DEI and turning away.

“I actually believe it’s a privilege to be able to say that there is fatigue, because as a black woman I don’t get the opportunity to have fatigue,” she said. “You have to point out the business benefit of this.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *