In a recent revelation, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman shifted the spotlight from his previous accusation of anti-Semitism at Harvard to a broader critique.
According to Ackman, the anti-Semitism concern was not the core issue but rather a troubling warning sign. He pointed fingers at what he perceives as Harvard’s obsession with DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Ackman’s criticism adds to rising DEI attacks
Ackman’s criticism adds to a growing trend of attacks on DEI initiatives, particularly from conservatives. Many argue that these efforts are inherently racist, targeting white Americans.
The assault on diversity initiatives has intensified in recent years, with critics rebranding them as “anti-white racism.”
This extends to broader corporate programs like ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing, often framed as discrimination against fossil fuels.
Historical context: Affirmative action and executive orders
The battle against diversity initiatives has historical roots, reaching back to the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions.
Former President Donald Trump played a significant role by banning diversity and sensitivity training through a 2020 executive order, condemning it as a “malign ideology.”
States like Florida and Texas have also enacted laws restricting discussions on diversity in higher education.
Conservative shift challenges corporate diversity initiatives
Last summer, Republican attorneys general targeted Fortune 100 companies, signaling a conservative change in legal and cultural perspectives.
Corporate diversity efforts have evolved since the 1970s, aligning with federal laws against workplace discrimination.
However, the recent surge in DEI branding gained momentum after the social upheaval following George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
Corporate diversity: From holistic capitalism to conservative backlash
The shift towards a more holistic capitalism, considering employees, communities, and customers as essential stakeholders, gained traction.
This marked a departure from the shareholder-primacy dogma of the preceding decades.
The conservative backlash is influencing corporate responses. Major corporations, including American Airlines, BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, and Lowe’s, have reportedly diluted their statements committing to diversity policies.
This reflects a palpable impact on corporate commitments to the principles of DEI.
DEI initiatives face criticism from various quarters
Ironically, while DEI initiatives face criticism from conservatives, they are not immune to skepticism from liberals and leftists.
Some argue these efforts are ineffective, perpetuate stereotypes, or serve as reputation laundering for companies.
A notable example is CoreCivic, a private prison company, showcasing support for “principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Even among employees, skepticism toward DEI initiatives persists.
Employee perspectives on racial equity policies
A Catalyst survey revealed that 75% of respondents across Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. believed their company’s racial equity policies were insincere.
Meanwhile, the fundamental problem DEI aimed to address—a lack of racial diversity in leadership—remains persistently unresolved.
In handling these complex dynamics, the battle against DEI unfolds, impacting corporate commitments and societal perceptions.