Affirmative action is over. Here's what businesses can do.

AboveBoard | Aug 16, 2023

On affirmative action, implicit bias, and steps forward after the latest SCOTUS ruling.

Affirmative action sought to expand opportunities for underrepresented people groups. Without it, we'll need additional tools to advance diversity and combat implicit bias.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in a 6-3 decision undoing decades of race-conscious admissions practices that have benefited underrepresented students and contributed to a more diverse candidate pipeline for American businesses. "Although formal race-linked legal barriers are gone, race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways," Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in her dissenting opinion. "[T]oday’s ruling makes things worse, not better." 

In this article, we'll define implicit bias and dive into best practices to advance diversity without affirmative action. 

Let's get started.

What is implicit bias?

Affirmative action in the form of race-conscious admissions policies was one tool used to combat implicit bias, expanding opportunities for underrepresented students.

Implicit bias, also known as unconscious bias, implicit prejudice, or implicit attitude, is defined by the American Psychological Association as "a negative attitude, of which one is not consciously aware, against a specific social group." The APA goes on to say that implicit bias "is an aspect of implicit social cognition: the phenomenon that perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes can operate prior to conscious intention or endorsement." 

Having implicit biases does not make an individual racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced. Remember, implicit biases occur before conscious intention or endorsement. The danger comes when such thoughts create or reinforce overgeneralizations, "sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel like they are being fair," according to Scientific American.

Though the nature of implicit bias can be subtle, the outcomes are very tangible. For example, research shows "white applicants get about 50 percent more call-backs than black applicants with the same resumes; college professors are 26 percent more likely to respond to a student's email when it is signed by Brad rather than Lamar; and physicians recommend less pain medication for black patients than white patients with the same injury."

Next up, we'll examine ways higher education institutions and businesses can drive diversity in the absence of affirmative action.

How to advance diversity after affirmative action

Though the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action doesn't apply to businesses directly, it does put corporations at risk of legal challenges to their DEI initiatives. Ahead, we've outlined a few steps businesses can take in light of the rollback on affirmative action.

Use blind recruitment strategies

Employing blind recruitment and hiring practices are one of the best ways to combat implicit bias and ensure more fair processes. Blind hiring "involves blocking evaluators from receiving potentially biased information about a target of evaluation until after an evaluation is complete," according to Harvard Business Review. Typically, these practices are implemented at the initial screening stages. Over two decades of research on the efficacy of blind hiring "found that more applicants from disadvantaged groups advance to the interview stage when a blind hiring approach [was] used." The research suggests that blind hiring is especially impactful for "companies that typically under-select applicants" from historically underrepresented groups.

Blind hiring can be done manually by stripping materials of information, such as biographical data like name, address, or college affiliation, prior to review. Softwares like GapJumpers can also facilitate blind hiring processes. Alternatively, businesses can also refrain from requesting this type of information until later on in the hiring process.

Pivot to competency-based hiring

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A candidate's background and experience have long been a primary point of reference in the world of executive recruitment. But these factors are only part of an individual's story. They don't determine what makes someone the "right" fit for a role. For instance, an individual who attended an elite university isn't necessarily more qualified than a state school alumni. Working for a high profile company doesn't guarantee the applicant performed quality work. So, what does? Skills.  

Using competencies rather than background to fill a position allows hiring companies to:

Click here to read more about best practices for competency-based hiring.

Diversify and expand the candidate pipeline

Reversing decades of affirmative action, specifically race-conscious admissions policies and practices, means businesses will need to do more to recruit diverse graduates. The good news is that affirmative action is just one tool among many to diversify college/university admissions and career pipelines. Hiring companies can also broaden and diversify the applicant pool by: 

  • Connecting with diverse students and alumni at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  • Broadening recruitment efforts beyond Ivy League universities and other institutions already affiliated with the company, i.e. if the workplace has a considerable number of graduates from a certain school, consider expanding outreach to students and graduates from underrepresented colleges and universities.
  • Requesting referrals from diverse employees and colleagues. This can facilitate a more diverse candidate search by expanding the talent pool beyond people already in, or adjacent to, your personal or professional network. 

For a step-by-step guide to sourcing diverse candidates, click here.

Diversify your search on AboveBoard

AboveBoard's platform facilitates a paradigm shift in the world of executive hiring, turning from an exclusive, closed-network process to a transparent and fair system that prioritizes excellence and inclusion. We level the playing field so that all executives, especially those historically excluded, have a fair chance at premier opportunities. Not only are we a new resource for seasoned executives to discover career-enhancing opportunities, we also offer companies and recruiters an opportunity to expand their searches for new candidates. 

More than 50,000 executives and 2,400 companies including The Vanguard Group, Hubspot, and The Kraft Heinz Company are already using our platform. Partner with us today to get started.

Looking to diversify your candidate pipeline?

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