Is it ‘boom or bust’ for DEI after SCOTUS affirmative action ruling?

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned affirmative action in university admissions this summer, employment experts predicted reverberations across corporate America—with diverse candidate pools expected to shrink. The question was, how would employers respond?

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According to a recent survey of 400 C-suite and HR leaders, investments in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are going strong—and expected to increase.

The survey, commissioned by Bridge Partners LLC—a retained executive search firm focused on inclusion—found that of C-suite executives and HR leaders at organizations with at least 250 employees or $25 million in revenue, 80% percent reported already having an established DEI program; of those that do not have one, 17% are planning to create one.

More than three-quarters of those with DEI programs increased their investment this year, and a similar number expect continued enhancements next year. Only 2% cut funding, about the same that anticipate decreased funding in 2024, according to the survey, titled The Value of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Initiatives: Boom or Bust. 

And the SCOTUS ruling may be directly tied to the increased attention on DEI.

See also: How HR can navigate today’s uncertain legal DEI landscape

Most say the ruling will be good for DEI programs

About 54% of respondents anticipated that the decision would have a positive impact on corporate DEI programs, with only 14% predicting a negative impact. Nearly 44% said that the SCOTUS decision would lead their respective organization to increase DEI investment, while more than 40% anticipated it would drive an increase in the recruitment, hiring and retention of diverse workers.

Tory Clarke
Tory Clarke

“In the wake of the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, many people around the country, including the Bridge Partners team, were left wondering how corporate America would react and how the decision would impact their DEI initiatives,” says Tory Clarke, a founder and partner at Bridge Partners. “This survey tells a clear story: Business leaders are ready to stand behind DEI. They have seen the value these programs have on their organizations, and won’t willingly slow down the progress they have made through these initiatives.”

Nearly 90% of respondents see DEI programs as necessary, reporting benefits of DEI programs on culture, hiring, retention and the bottom line; a full 96% of those surveyed say DEI programs are their most effective social impact initiative.

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“I’m encouraged by the results of this survey, which shows that DEI is here to stay and businesses will continue to invest in these important programs,” says Ryan Whitacre, partner and executive recruiter at Bridge Partners.

Ryan Whitacre
Ryan Whitacre

At the same time, the report also found that DEI initiatives still have a long way to go. Eighty-five percent of the respondents identified as white, although 80% believed their leadership was diverse. And the majority measure success on the basis of racial and ethnic diversity, leaving women, LGBTQ and other underrepresented populations to lag behind.

“It’s true that even more work will need to be done now than before, but business leaders can see that in order to continue to see the positive benefits of DEI programs, now is not the time to take their foot off the gas,” Whitacre says.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].