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Overturning Affirmative Action Doesn't Have to Mean the End of Workplace DEI Efforts

One of my favorite scenes in Jordan Peele's Get Out is when Chris, played by actor Daniel Kaluuya, finally breaks free after being tied up by a White family out for control of his body and soul. He's surprised when he awakes to find himself alone and strapped to a chair for the first time. But by the second time around, he gained the realization of scratching through the leather chair he's bound to and placing pieces of cotton in his ear that block out the hypnotizing sound meant to make him unconscious. After ignoring red flag after red flag from his girlfriend and her family, he finally resists their schemes and saves his own life.

As educators and leaders of organizations, we can learn a lesson from this scene: resistance from the forces of White supremacy requires strategy and a will to overcome. I'm reminded of those lessons now that the Supreme Court has overturned affirmative action. The move has been decades in the making and now falls in line with other similar efforts to ban Black history and expand the exclusion of Black people from schools, colleges, libraries, and more. The red flags have been waving for many years, attempting to warn us of the growing hostility towards any efforts to uproot racism and anti-Blackness in the United States. And with affirmative action no longer in place, the time is now for the workforce to take action to prevent the same from happening widely across organizations and companies.

Since 2020, corporations and organizations across all sectors have developed DEI pledges and even hired directors or vice presidents to specifically lead these efforts. Barely three

years later, many of those leaders have been let go– and without affirmative action, calls may grow to completely end workplace DEI efforts. Now, and not as those calls grow louder, is the time to act to keep advancing anti-racist and inclusive practices in the workplace.

The ruling may not directly implicate the workplace, but it constrains the candidate pool and could make some employers back off from their DEI efforts out of fear. Leaning away from that fear and into a spirit of boldness and equity can help the workplace resist anti-DEI efforts. There are practical steps your organization can take to do this, including:

Actively Seek Out Black and Brown Candidates: Expand outside of your social sphere and direct network to recruit Black and Brown talent. Partnering with search firms specializing in this area can support your organization in meeting this goal. Here at ShiftED Consulting, we assist with board selection processes, a level of leadership that can be crucial in shifting a workplace culture away from White supremacy culture.

Be Firm in Your Commitment to Abolishing Anti-Blackness and White Supremacy Culture, and Find Your Supporters: Some organizations and leaders may be tempted now to shy away from their DEI work out of fear of retribution or potential legal action from right-wing forces. However, DEI is not a 'both sides' concept; it's a starting requirement for undoing the centuries of disenfranchisement and racism Black people and other oppressed groups have faced in this country. Not shying away from that commitment when the going gets tough is critical. And it may help you to attract other supporters or peer organizations who can give guidance and community along the way.

Now is the time to lean into your anti-racist values. Neutralizing and ignoring race may be the courts' stance, but with strategy, your workplace can remain safe and prosperous for Black and Brown employees.

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