Blog Post

Affirmative Action in Jeopardy: Three Ways Employers Can Promote Inclusive Hiring

By Subha Barry
December 21, 2022

On October 31, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two affirmative action cases, brought against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, by Students for Fair Admissions. These cases stand to erase the decades-long precedent to allow race as one factor (among many) in college admissions. And now we must wait until June to hear the Supreme Court’s final ruling.

Just last month, I was joined by Natasha Warikoo, President of Sociology at Tufts; Stephanie Gold, Partner of Hogan Lovell’s Education Practice; Wene Lado, Senior College Success Manager of College Greenlight at EAB; and Zachary Maslia, Manager of Strategy and Ventures at EAB for a broad-ranging conversation on the implications this ruling could have on corporations and their employee population.

Affirmative Action has been part of a broader mission of colleges and universities contributing to a better society. As Natasha Warikoo explained during our webinar, we need racial diversity on campus. Why? Because bringing together diverse, young minds is a necessity to offer different perspectives and ideas, which produces more innovation and better outcomes and adds to the richness of society. We need to bring attention to racial disparities early, so that we can identify the gaps and opportunities that exist and work to mitigate them. In my opinion, this work must start before college, because if racial inequities are felt at the collegiate level, that feeling can transfer to the workplace.

If Affirmative Action is reversed, this will impact the admissions rates for underrepresented populations, which will in turn reduce the pipelines and pools for diverse talent. These pools will become smaller and smaller and organizations will not be able to rely on the same recruitment tactics: hiring from the same universities and schools, using algorithms to filter applications, or looking for the same experiences and backgrounds for vacant positions. What precedent can employers set so that they can expand opportunities for historically excluded talent? Here are three ideas corporations should consider.

Rethink Your Job Postings

HR and recruiting teams can be stretched thin, and it’s natural for them to resort to using filters such as degree or GPA to engage with talent. But according to, 70 million+ people in America don’t have a bachelor’s degree (that’s 50 percent of workers!), and 70 percent of new jobs insist on applicants having a degree. We’ve heard of the “glass ceiling” and the “bamboo ceiling.” The “paper ceiling” refers to the invisible barrier that exists for workers without a bachelor’s degree.

Workers without a bachelor’s degree are automatically limited given the fact they have no alumni network to rely on, algorithms will leave them out of searches, and they might not make it past the initial HR screening due to lack of a degree. A potential applicant without a degree could face a number of misconceptions.

According to my EAB colleague Zach Maslia: “We’ve seen that sometimes, when we use blunt force instruments like GPA to filter candidates into pipelines, it can be a really poor instrument for predicting future success. Particularly for historically excluded students. It’s well documented that first-generation students, low-income students, and other students from historically underrepresented areas have other responsibilities when they’re on college campuses (balancing working while in school or taking care of family members) and oftentimes might not have as much time to be reflected in their GPA. And so, when we use certain indicators like that to sift through and filter talent, oftentimes we’re actually biasing our process at the very beginning.”

According to the 2021 Census Bureau, a majority of Black and Latine adults (ages 25+) do not have a bachelor’s degree (or higher). What experiences, skill sets, and perspectives are corporations missing out on? If corporations want to keep a robust pipeline of diverse talent, they need to alter the language of their job postings and experience requirements, while matching the skill sets and values to those who might have nontraditional experience.

Consider Alternative Talent Pipelines

The skills people need to succeed in their jobs are changing. According to LinkedIn, skill sets for jobs have changed by 25% since 2015. And we can expect this number to double by 2027. This acceleration is thanks, in part, to the pandemic. Millions of workers will find their jobs replaced due to advancements in technology and the use of AI, and the hardest hit will be women and other underrepresented groups. This will also further widen the pay inequities that were already present pre-pandemic. The World Economic Forum estimates that more than 1 billion people will need to be reskilled or upskilled by 2030, and doing so will require a massive investment from corporations and government alike.

According to the Department of Labor, 241,000 new apprentices entered the national apprenticeship system in 2021, but these alternative talent pipelines are often overlooked by employers. As jobs and workplaces evolve, talent acquisitions teams should consider looking at different experiences and backgrounds when filling a role. Apprenticeships and learning-on—the-job opportunities, building on technical and professional skills as you go, can be another viable source for talent.

At our most recent DBP Member Conference, we were joined by Cable Ross, Professional Success Coach from Franklin Apprenticeships, and he spoke about how apprenticeships can open the door to more diverse tech talent while removing the barriers of a college degree. Did you know that there are 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions today (and only 53,000 computer science graduates from US colleges)? There is a shortage of workers with this specific skill set, and Franklin Apprenticeships is one of the organizations working to provide access to upskilled, diverse workers. According to their demographics, 56 percent of apprentices are Black, Indigenous, and people of color; 34 percent are women; 12 percent are veterans; 10 percent are Latine; and the average age is 31. I’m pointing to the tech industry specifically, but apprenticeship programs can cover a variety of industries, and hiring teams should consider this option.

Look Beyond Traditional Recruitment Methods

Shifting the corporate mindset will be key to getting the best talent—it just might come from a nontraditional source. Many talent acquisition professionals go to the same 10–20 schools, year after year, to recruit talent. By doing so, they could be limiting their access to diverse student populations. If talent acquisitions teams expanded their scope to larger, regional state universities and community colleges, they could build connections with student populations who are potentially more diverse, racially and socioeconomically as well as first-generation students.

At EAB, we’ve launched a pilot called the Career Equity Initiative, and it features several corporate partners and higher ed institutions. It’s a universal job application that takes a more holistic view of the student and their professional potential. It reduces the need for multiple applications and cover letters and builds a deeper profile of the student, beyond GPA and major and what they are looking for in a company. It includes what’s important to them, whether it’s compensation, work-life balance, or teamwork, and it matches them to job opportunities that could be a good fit. Employers then receive anonymized profiles from interested students and can determine which ones move on to the interview process. We hope that this pilot has an impact on helping historically excluded student populations get started in their careers while helping talent teams connect with student populations they might have previously overlooked.

If Affirmative Action is overturned in 2023, corporations will need to step up in a number of ways and play a much bigger role in recruiting and helping historically excluded populations find their footing in corporate America.

At the end of the day, employers still control their own destiny when it comes to the kind of workplace they want have and the hiring practices they want to implement, all while reflecting the communities they serve. In order to attract today’s talent, at all levels of employment (from next-generation to mid-career to senior-level), organizations must continue to go above and beyond what’s required by law for their employees, from increased parental leave policies to promoting work/life balance, to truly transform their culture into inclusive workplaces so that all employees can thrive.

Please contact us to learn more about how Seramount can help with your recruiting practices. 

About the Author

Subha V. Barry
Subha Barry