By Courtney Connley
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As business leaders continue to acknowledge the importance of DEI initiatives, there’s been little talk about how an impending Supreme Court decision in two cases could threaten current — and future — racial justice goals. The fair admission cases with Harvard and University of North Carolina both have the potential to overturn the landmark 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, which allowed race consciousness to continue in the university admissions process.
Reversing the ruling will not only ban race-consciousness in hiring practices, but will immediately depress the diversity pipeline for the next generation of leaders. On the latest episode of “The New Rules of Business,” Chief Co-Founder Carolyn Childers talks to UC Berkeley Law Professor Dr. Khiara Bridges about the ripple effect of banning affirmative action for corporate America.
Simply put: “It will be devastating.” To elaborate: “It will be devastating because it will close a pathway by which people of color can enter into the halls of power,” says Dr. Bridges. “Any effort that touches on race is now suspect in a post-Grutter world once the Supreme Court hands down its decision. Essentially, what the court is holding is that to think about race is race discrimination. When Harvard thinks about race, and when Harvard allows its admissions officers to consider race, they're engaging in race discrimination. So it's not a leap of logic to say that when a company has a workshop on race relations, or implicit bias, or a little special workshop that's on, I don't know, Indigenous People's Day, that the company isn’t engaging in race discrimination.”
As a result, Dr. Bridges says company leaders will be forced to operate from a mindset of colorblindness in which they must act as if race isn’t a factor in workplace culture. “It will severely hamper diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in companies,” she says. “It would incentivize them to play it safe and perhaps not to pursue some of the efforts that they otherwise would have pursued under less hostile Supreme Court precedent.”
Already, Dr. Bridges says, corporate America has been getting a pass on how they talk about and measure racial equity. And if the Supreme Court rules against affirmative action, then any hope around making real progress could be lost.
“I think that we're kind of making it easy for corporations because we have to use the language of diversity. We can no longer use the language of justice. We can no longer use the language of racial inequality… because the Supreme Court is saying that if we use any other language, well, then we run into legal problems,” she says. “So I think it makes it easier for corporations to say, ‘This is just all about diversity. This is just making sure that different viewpoints are represented…’ But, I really wish that we can talk about justice with a capital J. I really wish our efforts were honest and explicitly about undoing entrenched racial hierarchy.”