In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a ruling in the case of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard and University of North Carolina (SFFA). Following decades of heated attacks on the policy, the 6-2 split decision declared that affirmative action in college admissions was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
It's understandable that many are left anxiously wondering what the ruling means for them. While this ruling specifically pertains to college admissions, it has been closely watched by practitioners across all sectors. The aftermath of this ruling has triggered conversations about the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in workplaces and the potential impact on businesses' commitments to social justice.
We take a closer look at the SFFA decision in BiasSync's white paper, "Navigating Diversity in 2023 & Beyond," which can serve as a guide for DEI professionals as they navigate the evolving landscape of inclusivity in today’s workplace.
Understanding the Supreme Court Ruling
The SFFA case addressed the constitutionality of considering race as a factor in college admissions to achieve a diverse student body. The Court's decision, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, questioned the extent to which such practices should be employed. While past cases had upheld the goal of achieving educational benefits from diverse student bodies, the Court emphasized the need to avoid quota systems and ensure that racial classifications are narrowly tailored and necessary to achieve compelling government interests.
Although the ruling does not apply to employment settings, it has prompted discussions about the potential impact on DEI programs in businesses. Some cautious employers may find themselves reconsidering or scale down their DEI initiatives, fearing potential legal challenges.
Given this uncertainty, BiasSync commissioned the white paper in part to share practical guidance on aligning DEI programs with legal requirements.
Challenges and Opportunities for DEI Professionals
In the wake of the SFFA ruling, DEI professionals face the challenge of adapting their programs while ensuring compliance with the law. More than ever, there is a pronounced need for nuanced conversations between DEI, Human Resources (HR), and legal teams.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in 2020 and an increased demand for the private sector to show more leadership on building inclusive workplaces, many organizations sought to create or elevate the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) role. But in recent years, thousands of diversty-focused positions have been eliminated. In some instances, companies have scaled back their commitments to social justice, possibly contributing to layoffs and shifting priorities. This shift underscores the importance of proactive and ongoing efforts to maintain and strengthen DEI commitments in the workplace over the long haul.
Tailored Strategies for the DEI Employee Journey
In the dynamic DEI landscape after the SFFA decision, it’s important to remember that employers are already legally prohibited from making hiring and work-related decisions based solely on race. This moment presents an opportunity to review existing strategies, identify strengths and weaknesses, and refine approaches.
Some steps to consider:
1. Setting DEI Expectations for Everyone:
Leadership's role in establishing DEI expectations is crucial. Those in positions of authority have outsized responsibility to articulate the benefits of a diverse workforce, designate champions to monitor progress, and ensure that diversity remains a top-level priority.
2. Prioritizing Inclusion in the Hiring Process: The hiring process is an opportunity to ensure diversity and inclusivity. By thoughtfully posting positions, casting broad recruitment nets, and standardizing hiring practices, organizations can attract talent from diverse backgrounds. Organizations that prioritize DEI make it a point to be intentional in determining position levels and essential skills during jobs postings to ensure teams that reflect the full diversity of today’s workforce.
3. Advocating for an Inclusive Environment: Organizations can go beyond policy changes by advocating for meaningful programs and behaviors that foster belonging. In the midst of hitting performance metrics and monthly quotas, high-performing organizations make it a point to not lose collaboration and inclusion in the process - forming social bonds through employee resource groups and establishing trusting relationships through coaching and mentoring.
4. Retention-Focused Strategies: Beyond recruiting diverse talent comes the challenge of retention. Retention-focused policies, programs, and practices should be data-driven, developed based on surveys, “exit and stay” interviews, and employee feedback. In order to keep great talent from walking out the door, organizations focus on career development, mentoring, and systemic policy reviews.
The Path Forward
The SFFA decision has led organizations to reconsider their DEI strategies. The Court may have spoken on affirmative action, but the work of ensuring an inclusive workforce goes on. And when professionals feel they belong and are uniquely valued on their teams, they feel a greater sense of inclusion.
BiasSync's white paper provides invaluable insights for DEI professionals to navigate this landscape while ensuring legal compliance and fostering inclusivity. By tailoring strategies to the DEI employee journey, organizations can uphold their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, creating a workplace where all employees can thrive. Our hope should be that in the fullness of time, the SFFA decision serves as a catalyst for renewed efforts towards creating an equitable and inclusive work environment that celebrates the talents and experiences of all.
*Quick Tips *
- Work closely with general counsel to navigate complex issues involving inclusion and diversity.
- Be able to clearly communicate and articulate the value of your programs focused on DEI.
- Approach each interaction with reason, logic, and empathy.
- Avoid trying to “boil the ocean” and create a phased action plan for DEI that includes key objectives, milestones, and key results that can be tracked and measured.
For further guidance, you can review the full white paper here.
An additional BiasSync resource includes our proprietary Five-Stage Inclusivity Roadmap®. This practical framework offers DEI professionals actionable steps to pivot their programs in light of the SFFA decision. Each stage of the roadmap provides guidance, tips, and links to valuable resources. This roadmap empowers professionals to foster inclusive workplaces where employees feel valued, respected, and empowered.
If you are interested in learning more about BiasSync, we encourage you to contact our team.
Not just diversity. Inclusion.
Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.