The Supreme Court’s recent decision to end affirmative action is a shocking move that will, among other things, greatly affect American business.
Business success in the 21st century is almost always dependent on some form of innovation. Innovations, inventions, and new iterations of familiar services and products drive competitive advantage. Innovations also increase productivity: creating new ways to do more with fewer resources.
The most practical and sustainable way to reach creative and innovative solutions is through diversity of opinions. Time and time again, this has proven to be the most effective method of producing so-called “turnkey solutions”. This is why diversity, equity, and inclusion programs—one way to approach affirmative action—have become an essential part of any successful organization. Different backgrounds, mindsets, and experiences challenge the status quo problem. In that interactive process, horizontal jumps are more likely to occur.
Employees—the workers who feel motivated to go through this process frequently—are the most valuable on a corporate team. Motivating workers is crucial. Creative thought rarely occurs in a fearful and disinterested mind. This is why DEI is often measured by how workers feel in their relationship to the organization. A sense of belonging is the ultimate measure of a successful effort to diversify an inclusive workplace—and that sense of belonging is exactly what motivates an employee. Any individual willing to produce these advanced solutions, alone or in partnership with others. A purpose-led organization helps create this corporate culture.
Through the systematic removal of affirmative action programs at the college level, education will become narrower, and those allowed to prepare for a business career while pursuing a degree will become less diverse. This education is critical – not only in preparing students to enter the business world but also in honing innovation skills. Competitive analytical skills, breadth of exposure to historical and diverse thinkers, and insight into similarities between different times and places often provide the warmth that sparks creative insights. This is how the creative mind connects the dots while practical solutions evolve from a mixture of diverse experiences, connecting disparate, seemingly unrelated facts to the problem at hand. This is what good schools do.
I know this very well because I have a good education among the best institutions in our country. I might never have been educated if those educational institutions had not done some kind of affirmative action on my behalf, giving me a chance when, given my background and upbringing, the odds seemed to be stacked against me.
I arrived in America at the age of fifteen in April 1954, without knowing how to speak a single word of English. I also only had a fourth grade education. I spent nearly five years in a communist forced work environment of 11 to 15 — 10 hours a day, six days a week. My older brother and I were released as political prisoners. There was a great deal of publicity about our arrival in the United States. So, we had a chance in terms of giving us the opportunity once we got to America. You were gifted to get into Exeter Academy. The headmaster had read my story in the press, and called my parents to offer me a place at their school even though I could barely speak English. Yes, I was white, and had developed a great work ethic, yet non-native English speaking students were not accepted in those days. The odds were so great that there was a great risk that Exeter could not catch me, so to speak. In the face of overwhelming odds, Exeter prepared me for admission to Princeton University and then Stanford University, where I earned my MBA. This kind and thoughtful manager gave me a chance. And opportunity is the key.
I will not fully argue why we Americans owe the black community more opportunities. Needless to say. Centuries of racial discrimination that persist in some cases to this day. Look at any data about our community. For more than 25 years, I have served on the board of directors of a large community hospital in New York City. I know the stats: infant mortality rates, age, and susceptibility to disease. All of these numbers, broken down by race, show how the black community struggles at a disadvantage. During Covid, if you were black, your chances of dying were five times higher than if you were white. Our culture, public health, housing, and education all work against black people. Through the likes of affirmative action black people thrive. Many of our prominent business leaders are black. I know, I’ve worked with some of the best CEOs in the world, and some of them have been black. All because they had the opportunity. Affirmative action has a role to play, if it is implemented intelligently and with great care.
One last point. Affirmative action benefits everyone. It also allows white children to learn how to get along, work together, respect and form friendships with people who do not look like them. Is this important? Well, in less than two decades, the non-white population of America will be the majority. This is the emerging reality of America today.
We must come together as a people. We are a different kind of country. We must learn to make diversity work for us. In everyday life, neighborhoods, governments and I would argue, in business. As a nation, America owes the black community an end to discrimination and second-class status. The goal is not equal results. But the imperative is a level playing field. This means getting a quality education from the age of three, available to everyone.
The Supreme Court was wrong. Very wrong for the black community, the white community, society in general, and business too. I urge all academic institutions to find a way around this profound, unfair and counterproductive decision.