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News

In Wake of Activism and Lawsuits, Companies Scaling Back DEI Efforts

By:
S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jun 20, 2024

Diversity-equity-inclusion

White-collar companies and firms are reducing or changing their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in response to "anti-woke" activism and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning affirmative action in college admissions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Companies have toned down references  to DEI and opened up programs once reserved for diverse applicants to everyone. Many have stopped referencing their DEI programs in annual reports altogether, the Journal previously reported.

Some businesses backing away include banks, law firms and consulting firms, the Journal reported.

PwC’s Start internship program, which accepted only “traditionally underrepresented” minority applicants for years, removed that requirement last fall. The program’s description now says it encourages students of diverse backgrounds to apply.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in May removed “self-identify as a member of a historically underrepresented group” from a list of attributes ideal candidates should possess for its sophomore summer business-analyst program. McKinsey said the program is designed to expose historically underrepresented groups to management consulting and is one of many diversity recruiting programs it maintains.

Law firm Kirkland & Ellis now clarifies that its diversity and inclusion fellowship is open to all second-year law students, regardless of their backgrounds. JPMorgan Chase has done the same for its Black and Hispanic & Latino fellowship programs, adding that all sophomore students regardless of their background are welcome to apply. Law firm King & Spalding no longer notes “the best talent is diverse in many ways” on the description of its diversity fellowships as it once did.

JPMorgan said it remains committed to a workforce with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Kirkland & Ellis declined the Journal's request for comment, and King & Spalding didn't respond to a request for comment.

Some companies are no longer tracking demographic data related to diversity because they fear that it poses a litigation risk if they make hiring decisions based on identity or race, said Jailany Thiaw, founder and chief executive of upskill, a job-recruitment platform, in an interview with the Journal.

Many employment lawyers say that this retreat is the result of anti-DEI advocates who filed lawsuits in the past year against law firms with diversity fellowships, the Journal reported. One, Edward Blum, spearheaded the lawsuit that prompted the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to overturn affirmative action in college admissions, which many companies viewed as a warning.

“They’re being a lot more careful about how they say it and even if they say it,” said Steven Rothberg, founder of job-search website College Recruiter. He said that he has seen a decline in companies stating that their primary goal for recruitment is to support their DEI efforts.

Surveys suggest that most companies aren’t making substantive changes to their diversity initiatives, even if they are modifying how they describe them, according to the Journal.

Entering her final year at Drexel University, Amanda Gonzalez noticed that technology companies were less vocal about their diversity initiatives, compared with when she started college in 2020.

“I have grown up not seeing a lot of Latino representation within the tech sector specifically,” the 22-year-old told the Journal. “I’m definitely super worried about the job market.”