Bloomberg Law
June 13, 2024, 8:30 AM UTC

Corporate DEI Isn’t Dead. It’s an Existential Moment for Change

Stacy Hawkins
Stacy Hawkins
Rutgers Law School

DEI is under attack from all sides, and companies are reasonably questioning its ability to survive these ubiquitous threats. As corporations seek a way forward during this difficult period, they should rest assured that DEI’s time hasn’t passed.

After its ascent in the early 2000s, DEI faces a two-pronged assault. Conservative groups have filed a raft of lawsuits under Civil Rights Era anti-discrimination laws and proposed or passed legislation to limit DEI as “woke indoctrination.”

For all the emphasis on the right’s criticisms of DEI, there’s curious inattention to leftist opposition to DEI, which is more about form than substance. Some on the left have long denounced DEI as a corporatist ploy to distract from the larger project of social justice and equal rights on behalf of marginalized groups. This progressive attack often goes unnoticed precisely because its aims are aligned with DEI, even if its methods differ.

Despite this onslaught from all sides, there are several reasons why rumors of DEI’s demise are greatly exaggerated. DEI is neither dead nor dying.

First, like much of today’s political discourse, conversations around DEI often reflect the most polarized views and ignore the vast majority of Americans in the middle. Opinion polls have consistently shown broad public support for efforts to ensure institutions reflect the country’s demographic diversity.

Even in the recent US Supreme Court case striking down the use of race in college admissions, the six-justice conservative majority acknowledged pursuing diversity is a “commendable” aim. It may not be a ringing endorsement, but it’s far from a death knell.

On the other hand, progressive calls to abandon DEI in favor of remedial efforts to correct past injustices are out of step with waning public support for such approaches.

When DEI efforts are understood as an attempt to recognize the value of diversity for society at large, public support is high. When understood as an attempt to privilege certain groups at the expense of others, public support is low. In public discourse, framing matters. If the goal of equality is the same, why not frame DEI in a manner that aligns with public opinion?

Second, the fight for equality that undergirds DEI efforts is an abiding feature of the American social and political order. So too, however, is the opposition. This battle has endured for centuries. There have been wins and losses on both sides; what remains constant is that the fight itself has never been abandoned.

DEI emerged as a response to conservative backlash against affirmative action in the 1970s and 1980s—yes, public support for affirmative action has been waning for nearly half a century. When it became evident that affirmative action, defined as programs to redress past racial and gender discrimination, was losing support as matter of law and public policy, equality advocates marshalled new arguments and leveraged emerging evidence of diversity’s benefits— for those underrepresented and for society as a whole.

These arguments gained traction and propelled support for DEI over time. It is now the dominant rationale for equality efforts across a wide range of domains. Diversity’s value in government, education, and business manifests in greater representation, expanded opportunity, more varied perspectives, and increased democratic legitimacy. These values resonate across the political and social divide. They are difficult to contest precisely because they are universal.

So the opposition evolved too. Rather than challenge these unassailable values, opponents reframed their attack to target the ways we pursue them. The problem is less diversity than “racial preferences.” It is less equity than the attempt to quantify what it means to be representative. It isn’t inclusion that’s problematic; it’s “woke indoctrination.”

The progressive arguments against DEI offer no rejoinder to these attacks. If the problem is “racial preferences” and fear of quotas, it’s no use trying to return to “affirmative action,” which is seen as tantamount to both “racial preferences” and quotas. But DEI has the ability to evolve in response to this new opposition.

The last sign that DEI isn’t dead is that it’s already adapting to the latest opposition arguments, immunizing itself against these newest assaults. Even as the Supreme Court told colleges and universities they can’t continue to consider applicants’ race in admissions, the high court expressly noted schools can still consider an applicant’s experience with race.

In response, institutions have modified admissions processes to solicit information about applicants’ experience with race in lieu of simply asking them to self-identity their race or ethnicity.

Similarly, in response to lawsuits challenging workplace diversity programs, several employers have modified their program language to make clear they aren’t just benefiting certain racial or ethnic groups, but instead are designed to open up opportunities broadly for all groups who might otherwise be underrepresented.

Finally, in response to state legislation banning DEI offices on college campuses, many schools have redirected these efforts toward supporting student well-being. In many instances, these modifications have muted the opposition. These victories may not resolve every challenge, but they are victories all the same.

As the fight for equality inevitably continues, DEI lives on.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Author Information

Stacy Hawkins is a professor at Rutgers Law School and teaches courses in constitutional law, employment law, and an original seminar on diversity and the Law.

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To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at; Alison Lake at

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