The Supreme Court’s recent monumental decision to eliminate affirmative action in college admissions will impact workplaces. Universities can no longer explicitly consider race during the admissions process, changing the demographics of job applicants for the foreseeable future.
Colleges originally instilled this effort to bolster marginalized communities, as professional and educational access is more challenging for them to obtain. Regardless of affirmative action’s efficacy, the strike-down from the Supreme Court will alter how workplaces appear and function.
The Uncertainty of Diversity
Affirmative action made diversity a requirement, expanding workplaces in America into the most diverse they have ever been. Applicants want this — 76% of employees consider how prospective employers feel about diversity when applying.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s and still today, employers need more contextualization around how race-related challenges impact hiring chances and higher education opportunities.
Without affirmative action, an employer’s decision to consider race is voluntary. Eliminating requirements for hiring rules of any variation reduces urgency about social issues, such as racial inequality. Therefore, the ban can bring toxic bias back into the recruitment process and more heated debates within the discourse.
Lawmakers intended for affirmative action to level the playing field — removing the disadvantages of these groups for increased fairness. The outcome is a workforce more reflective of demographic realities in the nation. Workplaces may revert to homogeneous environments unless they uphold strict diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) standards in place of affirmative action curating a company’s applicant pool.
The Way Each Side Sees It
Those in favor of the ruling have a few varied opinions. Some believe it is a win for diversity because affirmative action can unintentionally discriminate against Asian Americans or other groups. Some debate whether it’s time to remove such rules because they encourage racial preferences — signaling potential hypocrisy.
It could also prevent qualified individuals from receiving acceptance to a job or university because the entity has quotas to meet. Companies particularly supportive of the decision because of hurtful discrimination beliefs could fire employees of color because they only hired them to complete a metric. Thankfully, because of legislation like the WARN Act, people will have notice regardless of employer intentions.
The other side of the argument claims keeping the rule alive is necessary for diverse universities and workplaces. The nation isn’t immune to bias — there is embedded racial discrimination in the country’s history.
Rules like affirmative action remove the uncertainty behind whether a university or workplace discriminates against marginalized groups. It ensures the nation continues on a trajectory of acceptance by forcing professional and educational environments to admit previous wrongs.
The Impact Affirmative Action Made
Affirmative action bans have objective consequences for diversity percentages among college-to-career track individuals. University demographics directly correlate with workplace makeup. The least diverse sectors reflect the racism from elite universities before affirmative action. Esteemed colleges that taught law and medicine produced sectors that were predominantly white in nature.
Therefore, new admissions priorities will change who funnels most into job applications. Workplaces may not have a choice in how diverse their team is if there aren’t varied applicants because universities aren’t admitting as many minority groups.
It can change workplace priorities, too. If affirmative action isn’t required, an employer may wish to ditch the DE&I goals for fear of being noncompliant with the government. Alternatively, they could ditch these standards because some companies created them after feeling forced — not out of genuine care. Now, they can dispose of them out of convenience.
The resistance of Fortune 500 companies is critical to acknowledge. Despite affirmative action being present for many years, it did little to change the makeup of top-earning corporations, with around 86% of those employees being white men. Noticing these trends accentuates a need for conscious diversity efforts — whether it’s affirmative action or not — because habits like identity bias and nepotism continue to homogenize demographics.
Tackling the sources of workforces, like universities, is a way to reframe the origin to combat deep-rooted, discriminatory behaviors that keep companies primarily white.
The Implications of the Ruling
Have employers’ mindsets changed when affirmative action was active to make a lasting impact with or without the rule? Will harmful judgment practices resurface that damage minority populations?
Workplaces need diverse minds for progress. Varied backgrounds provide unique perspectives necessary for organizations to stay relevant, creative and innovative. Affirmative action has succeeded in the past in delivering diverse structures, so it’s impossible to ascertain how the Supreme Court ban will adjust workplaces now. It’s only certain that it will.
Devin Partida writes about investor technologies, big data and apps. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.