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Why Big Business Supports Affirmative Action – MMXLII

Why Big Business Supports Affirmative Action

Race-based affirmative action has been a controversial topic since the phrase was first used in an executive order signed by John Kennedy in 1961, but in the past few weeks it’s appeared in more headlines than usual, thanks to the recently decided Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas. SCOTUS refused to make a definitive ruling on the legality of preferential admissions based on race, instead sending the case back to a lower court for further review. However, one group has made their stance on affirmative action clear. Joining numerous major universities, a coalition of over fifty major corporations, including General Electric, Xerox, and General Mills, petitioned the court to uphold race-based affirmative action programs. In this blog post, we explore why these businesses believe the diversity is good for the bottom line.

These companies have come together in support of diversity on college campuses because they want to be able to draw from a more diverse hiring pool – an option they believe Is essential to doing business in the 21st century. General Mills CEO Ken Powell explains that logic in this piece by South Coast Today:

It’s very important for the company to capture and have within our ranks employees who really understand the broad spectrum of American society in order for us to be an effective consumer goods company. We strongly believe in that.

That “broad spectrum” is only getting broader, as minority births increase and the United States comes closer and closer to becoming a pluralist nation without any racial or ethnic majority. Bearing that inevitable demographic shift in mind it’s not hard to see why these big businesses think its smart business to appeal to a diversity of consumers. Corporations like Xerox and General Mills seem to believe that a crucial aspect of that appeal is a workforce as diverse as a business’s customers.
Others see the value of that approach not only for competition in an increasingly diverse domestic market, but also for the advantage to be derived by companies operating on an increasingly global scale. Gina Grillo, president and CEO of The AD Club of New York, makes that argument in a recent opinion piece for Marketing Daily.

We’re all on the same playing field now, and this means there’s an opportunity for marketers to talk to a global audience in a universal language. Without diversity on creative teams, finding that universal language won’t be easy. The diversity of ideas and backgrounds among talent is crucial in the marketing and media world.

When the Supreme Court sent Fisher v. University of Texas back to a lower court, they did so with instructions to decide whether or not increasing racial diversity on college campuses served a compelling governmental interest. There has long been debate over whether or not diversity on a college campus serves anyone’s interests. Opponents of affirmative action have argued, at times compellingly, that diversity in and of itself is not a virtue. These business leaders however, suggest a practical value to a work force and a hiring pool whose composition reflects the diversity of customers they hope to serve.
What do you think? Do these business leaders have it right? Is diversity a practical necessity for businesses working in a diversified world? Would this argument convince you to support race-based affirmative action? Let us know in the comments.
Photo from The New York Times.

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