There are reports this week that the forces that successfully challenged university diversity programs, essentially bringing to an end the traditional definition of affirmative action, next will be coming for the US business community.
The first inklings of the fights to come came in the Boston Globe:
"Edward Blum is not finished yet.
"After years of failed attempts to end affirmative action in college admissions, Blum scored a major victory this summer when the Supreme Court ruled Harvard University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill could no longer use the policy to ensure a diverse campus. Though largely expected, the decision sent shockwaves through the country and sent selective colleges scrambling to meet diversity commitments in ways that comply with the law.
"Now, Blum has set his sights on his next target: race-based preferences in corporate America, including diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that have become commonplace in the private sector.
"Taking his fight to the country’s entire business sector may seem like an insurmountable challenge. But legal analysts note that Blum has been underestimated in the past, including when he took on Harvard, and it would be unwise to count him out this time.
"Blum’s latest effort, backed by numerous conservative foundations, has prompted law firms across the country to warn clients that the recent court decision could have ramifications beyond academia. While the June ruling did not address corporate efforts to foster diverse and inclusive workforces, some lawyers and advocates are already trying to apply the decision to the employment context, legal analysts say."
Axios points out that corporate America already "has a diversity problem … Some 89% of CEOs and CFOs leading the biggest companies in the U.S. are white." An effort to push companies "to ignore race and background when recruiting could make things worse."
Law firms seem to be the first place Blum is focusing his attention: This week, the Wall Street Journal reports, his two-year-old anti-affirmative-action organization, American Alliance for Equal Rights, sued a pair of prominent law firms with offices in both Florida and Texas accusing them "of unlawful racial discrimination against white candidates. They ask the courts to remove race from consideration when selecting fellows."
Axios reports that Blum's organization also is targeting the "Fearless Fund, which is focused on startups led by women of color," with a lawsuit.
The Associated Press reports, "In its lawsuit, American Alliance For Equal Rights argues the fund’s Fearless Strivers Grant Contest, which awards $20,000 to Black women who run businesses, violates a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibiting racial discrimination in contracts. It claims it has members who are being excluded from the program because of their race and said it’s entitled to relief.
"The venture capital firm was established to address barriers that exists in venture capital funding for businesses led by women of color. It runs the grant contest four times a year. To be eligible, a business must be at least 51% owned by a Black woman, among other qualifications."
- KC's View:
Clearly, businesses of any kind that have been working to diversify their organizational ranks - because they have recognized that they can better serve a diverse customer base with employees who resemble and think and feel like the people whey are serving - need to be concerned. If nothing else, they probably should add some dollars to whatever budget line is assigned to litigation-related issues, because this guy is out to make as point.
Law firms with a diversity of associates (and, eventually, partners) are simply better able to represent a heterogeneous client base. DEI can be good business.
Retailers are better able to market and merchandise to a disparate customer base if not everybody around the table - or in the aisles - looks and acts and thinks the same. DEI can be good business.
Not every law form or business is forced to adopt such policies. And that's fine. If some entities think they are better off without DEI, that ought to be their prerogative. But they think they can be more effective and successful by adopting DEI programs, they ought to be able to do that, too. (Whatever happened to the conservative mindset that government ought to stay out of the way companies do business?)
As for suing a fund specifically designed to aid women of color as they create startup companies, essentially saying that white folks ought to have equal access to that money, I simply don't know what to make of that.
No doubt when Blum is done white-washing corporate and academic America, he'll start suing the television networks to bring back the good old days when the airwaves were dominated by "Leave It To Beaver," "Ozzie and Harriet," and "Green Acres," where the only people of color were those with sunburns.
I think there are ways to navigate this. I've been interested to hear what Scott Galloway says about the issue, pointing out that the University of California system eliminated race-based affirmative action years ago, but moved to a kind of "adversity index" that allows its schools to get a sense of hardship and circumstance when evaluating candidates and making acceptance decisions. I'm sure that Blum and his ilk will find a way to challenge this approach as well, probably arguing that rich, entitled white men deserve equal consideration along with poor people who are working hard to transcend their financial origins.
One thing seems clear - companies need to review their DEI policies and get ready for inevitable battles.