US executives drastically cut back on public discussions of workplace diversity last quarter, in the first earnings season since the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action sent a chill through corporate boardrooms.
Mentions of diversity, equity and inclusion on earnings calls and at conferences among Russell 3,000 Index companies fell by 54% from a year ago in the third quarter to the lowest since 2018, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Since the court decision, Republican lawmakers and conservative groups have publicly warned US corporations that their diversity efforts could come under scrutiny, though some legal experts have said that workplace programs should be unaffected.
“If I were advising a client right now in this climate, I might say, ‘Maybe say less, rather than more,’” Esther Lander, an employment lawyer and partner at Akin Grump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said in an interview. “Carefully vet what you say so you don’t become a target.”
The impact so far appears to be limited to rhetoric as firms are yet to pull back on diversity initiatives. They’re instead likely toning down or limiting public proclamations while they reevaluate programs and documentation surrounding them. Many companies responded similarly to anti-LGBTQ protests earlier this year.
“Why make yourself a target if you don’t have to be one?” Lander said.