Companies are watering down their diversity recruiting programs

The shift came after an anti-woke movement took aim at U.S. companies and a Supreme Court decision overturned affirmative action in college admissions. EMIL LENDOF/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The shift came after an anti-woke movement took aim at U.S. companies and a Supreme Court decision overturned affirmative action in college admissions. EMIL LENDOF/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Summary

Minority students are concerned about what the cutbacks mean for their futures in an already tight job market.

White-collar companies that once championed programs to recruit diverse employees are now tiptoeing away from them.

PricewaterhouseCoopers and JPMorgan Chase are among those that recently removed or altered descriptions of their programs for underrepresented students. The shift came after an “anti-woke" movement took aim at U.S. companies and a Supreme Court decision overturned affirmative action in college admissions.

Employers’ embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives peaked in 2021, sparked by the death of George Floyd and the height of the Black Lives Matter movement a year earlier. In the years since, access to diversity programs has been slowly declining, a Glassdoor study in April found.

Companies have made the changes quietly, often by playing down terminology such as “DEI" and opening up programs once reserved for diverse applicants to everyone. Many stopped referencing their DEI programs in annual reports altogether, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Minority students are concerned about what the cutback means for their future in an already tight job market.

As an undergrad, Chad Fuselier, 24 years old, remembers searching on job sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn for postings that referenced “diversity programs" or “Black students." That helped him land an internship through a program at PwC.

Similar searches today yield fewer results, said Fuselier, now a second-year law student at the University of Florida. He has an internship at KPMG this summer that wasn’t part of a diversity program.

Accounting firm PwC’s well-known Start internship program, which accepted only “traditionally underrepresented" minority applicants for years, removed that requirement last fall. The program’s description now says it encourages students of diverse backgrounds to apply. PwC declined to comment.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in May removed “self-identify as a member of a historically underrepresented group" from a list of attributes ideal candidates should possess for its sophomore summer business-analyst program.

McKinsey said the program is designed to expose historically underrepresented groups to management consulting and is one of many diversity recruiting programs it maintains.

Law firm Kirkland & Ellis now clarifies that its diversity and inclusion fellowship is open to all second-year law students, regardless of their backgrounds. JPMorgan Chase has done the same for its Black and Hispanic & Latino fellowship programs, adding that all sophomore students regardless of their background are welcome to apply.

JPMorgan said it remains committed to a workforce with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Kirkland & Ellis declined to comment.

Law firm King & Spalding no longer notes “the best talent is diverse in many ways" on the description of its diversity fellowships as it once did. The firm didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Some companies are no longer tracking demographic data related to diversity because they fear that it poses a litigation risk if they make hiring decisions based on identity or race, said Jailany Thiaw, founder and chief executive of upskill, a job-recruitment platform.

Thiaw, whose site specializes in helping companies hire underrepresented students and recent graduates, worries firms won’t be able to recruit or retain a diverse workforce if they don’t track such information.

Many employment lawyers attribute the retreat to anti-DEI advocates like Edward Blum filing lawsuits in the past year against law firms with diversity fellowships. Blum spearheaded the lawsuit that prompted the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to overturn affirmative action in college admissions. Though the ruling didn’t affect companies directly, many companies viewed it as a warning shot that they could be targeted next.

“They’re being a lot more careful about how they say it and even if they say it," said Steven Rothberg, founder of job-search website College Recruiter, who has seen a decline in companies saying their primary goal for recruitment is to support their DEI efforts.

It is too early to measure the impact, if any, of these retreats on workplace diversity. Surveys suggest most companies aren’t making substantive changes to their diversity initiatives, even if they are modifying how they describe them. But some minority job seekers worry they could erode a path for diverse candidates to find internships and entry-level roles.

Going into her final year at Drexel University, Amanda Gonzalez noticed tech companies were less vocal about their diversity initiatives compared with when she started college in 2020. It has increased her nervousness around finding a job in an industry already known to struggle with diversity.

“I have grown up not seeing a lot of Latino representation within the tech sector specifically," said Gonzalez, a 22-year-old from Philadelphia. “I’m definitely super worried about the job market."

Write to Kailyn Rhone at kailyn.rhone@wsj.com

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