State Bans on Affirmative Action and the Impact on Corporate DE&I Programs

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its recent decision striking down affirmative action in colleges and universities, workplace researchers forecast the quick demise of corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs. Their fears were realistic; a 2013 Harvard University study shows that racial diversity in the workplace significantly declined after several states outlawed affirmative action in college admissions.

The study examined employment data from almost 6,000 state and local government agencies in four states after they banned affirmative action in higher education. From 1990 to 2009, workforce participation declined among minorities as follows:

  • Hispanic men fell by 7 percent.
  • Black women fell by 4 percent.
  • Asian women fell by 37 percent.
  • White men rose by 4.7 percent.

The longevity of the declines depended on the race involved. For instance, the decline of Black women in the workforce extended for five years after the laws were enacted. However, for Asian women, the decline appeared to last only one year after the laws’ effective dates.

The decline in workforce representation by persons of color could be attributable to other factors, at least in part, such as mass layoffs and economic downturns. However, the decline in diversity in the workplace as illustrated in the Harvard study remains troubling. Furthermore, based on the results of this study, the nationwide ban on affirmative action in higher education could have a similar impact on corporate DE&I programs, even though the high Court’s decisions did not specifically target those programs.

According to the New York Times, before California banned affirmative action in 1996, Black and Hispanic students comprised seven percent of the student population at UCLA. By 1998, that percentage had dropped to less than four percent. In 2006, Black students comprised less than two percent of UCLA’s first-year class.

Michigan experienced the same results after it ended affirmative action in 2006. As per the New York Times, Black student undergraduate enrollment in the state dropped from seven percent in 2006 to four percent in 2021.

A 2020 study by the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education supported the findings in the 2013 Harvard study. Not only did the end of affirmative action reduce the number of Black and Hispanic students in the University of California system, but it also reduced the number of those students who finished college, went to graduate school, and earned a higher salary.

Despite these discouraging statistics, affirmative action policies remain unpopular, even among Black Americans. A recent poll by The Economist/YouGov found that 54% of Black Americans responded that colleges should not consider race in admissions. Nonetheless, employers can and should make efforts to maintain DE&I programs to foster diversity in the workplace.

For instance, employers can collaborate with job training programs and other community resources to foster these initiatives. They can recruit from historically Black colleges and universities and create or expand referral programs from existing employees or employee resource groups. They can also eliminate college degree requirements in favor of skills and behavior-based hiring, a move that Google, Tesla, and Apple have made. This step can create alternatives for individuals to enter higher-paying industries, despite the lack of higher education.

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 470-571-1007.

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