The Uncertain Future of Diversity and Hiring

A Supreme Court ruling and legal threats from some states’ attorneys general have companies reviewing ways to revive the momentum for diversity.

Diversity has had it rough lately. First, there were cutbacks due to the economy. Then came the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action. That was followed by a cohort of Republican attorneys general issuing a letter to Fortune 100 CEOs questioning the legality of some DEI efforts.

The main issue for the moment centers on quotas, a topic which was at the heart of the recent Supreme Court ruling banning affirmative action at universities. Though the ruling doesn’t apply to the private sector, the attorneys general are raising questions. For his part, Korn Ferry chief diversity officer JT Saunders says that no laws exist yet to address issues like this, but some form of legislation is likely down the road. He says that while quotas may have been useful as a safety net to encourage equitable opportunity, they are not the most effective instrument in the DEI toolkit. “If you're only relying on quotas from a compliance-driven perspective, you're likely not getting the best results from DEI,” he says. “You’re creating an opportunity for it to be challenged quite easily. It can’t be about checking boxes. It must be about business outcomes."

Still, this latest wave of discontent directed at DEI is indeed worrying, says Andrés Tapia, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s DE&I practice—especially given that firms’ enthusiasm has shown signs of waning. At the end of 2022, the reported attrition rate for DEI professionals was 33%, compared to 21% for those in other roles. But Tapia urges those who believe in inclusivity not to stay on the defensive but instead to bring the argument of diversity forward in a way that business can’t deny. “These reactionary forces should be asked to make the argument against the innovation, marketplace growth, and talent optimization that comes from diversity,” he says. “Let's have that debate.”

Given that mandated quotas may have unclear implications, Tapia suggests that targets set by companies to achieve a level of diversity reflective of their consumer base should be seen instead as a strategic aspiration. The 2020 census marked the first time America’s white population was in decline; it’s currently at 57% and projected to be less than 50% by 2045. This has a clear impact on company profits, say experts. Hispanic consumers, for example, comprise over 18% of the total US population, according to the US Census Bureau American Community Survey. Indeed, Latinx people in the US would reportedly have the fifth-biggest GDP in the world if they were their own country. “Whether you like it or not, half of this country may be people not like you,” says Tapia. “Do you know how to sell, design, and do customer service to people not like you?”

The consequences of getting diversity wrong can have enormous consequences, says Alina Polonskaia, global leader of Korn Ferry’s DE&I Consulting practice. At the height of the pandemic, pulse oximeters were the main tool used to determine whether or not one’s blood-oxygen levels were healthy. However, one study by scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that inaccurate readings from pulse oximeters led to a failure to identify Black and Hispanic patients with low blood oxygen. Polonskaia wonders whether the reason the devices only worked on white patients was because the people who developed the technology were primarily white themselves—though this part isn’t known for sure. What is known is that the pulse oximeter promised to effectively serve people without regard for their race. “But we now know that its promise was only fulfilled for white patients,” she says, “not people with darker skin.”


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion consulting capabilities.