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On the Supreme Court, College Admissions and the Future of Workplace Diversity
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On the Supreme Court, College Admissions and the Future of Workplace Diversity

With Stacy Hawkins, Professor at Rutgers Law | Interviewed by Matt Crossman

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Welcome to AccelPro Employment Law, where we provide expert interviews and coaching to accelerate your professional development. Today we’re featuring a conversation about what the ruling in the Harvard-UNC Supreme Court case means for workplace diversity. Our guest is Stacy Hawkins, a professor at Rutgers who speaks and writes about diversity, hiring and college admissions.

She walks us through key concepts to understand the differences and similarities between race-conscious college admissions and workplace diversity hiring efforts, discusses the search for a hiring case similar to the admissions case and lays out her passion for reviving the role-model theory as a strategy to increase the diversity of workplaces.

Hawkins also explains how she transitioned from a career in private practice to being a professor, commentator and thought leader and offers practical advice for anyone hoping to make a career change. The episode transcript and supplemental materials are available below.


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TRANSCRIPT

I. THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SUPREME COURT CASE THAT CAPTIVATED EMPLOYMENT ATTORNEYS

Matt Crossman, Host: Everyone from scholars like yourself to employment attorneys to hiring and DEI executives eagerly anticipated the UNC-Harvard Supreme Court case. The decision finally came down over the summer. What was that case about and what did the Supreme Court say?

Stacy Hawkins: The case was about Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the way in which they conduct their admissions programs. They, like many other selective colleges in the United States, have long considered race as one of many of the factors that they consider about the applicants who apply for admission to their universities.

And since 2003, the Supreme Court has endorsed the use of race as one of many factors in the college admissions process. And so consistent with that 2003 precedent, both Harvard and UNC had been continuing to use race in their admissions processes. And this case was filed by an activist who has been trying to get the Supreme Court to reverse that 2003 decision for some time now.

And he was finally successful.

MC: And what does that have to do with employment law?

SH: There are two reasons why employers have always closely watched these cases going back to the 2003 case and up through the most recent decision by the Supreme Court. And that’s first because obviously the graduates that colleges and universities produce are the people that these employers hire. And so they’re concerned about their ability to hire a diverse workforce in the future. Because obviously if colleges and universities are not admitting and graduating diverse student bodies, then employers, especially in the professional sector, are not going to be able to hire diverse workers.

And then second, because employers are committed to diversity in their workplaces, they have closely watched what the Supreme Court has said about diversity in the higher education admissions context, because it is one of the few contexts in which the Supreme Court has ever made any decision about the interest in diversity itself.

The Supreme Court has never had occasion to consider diversity efforts in the employment context. Employers take it that whatever the Supreme Court has said in the higher education context, it might have some transferability to the work that they’re doing in the employment context.

II. COMMON ENDS, DIFFERENT MEANS AND HIRING FOR DIVERSITY

MC:
I like that word you used, transferability, and that employers should watch that. A couple years ago you wrote an article in the ABA Journal of Labor and Employment with the headline “What the Supreme Court’s Diversity Doctrine Means for Workplace Diversity Efforts.”

In that article, you point out three issues that are important to understand the similarities and differences between race-conscious college admissions plans and workplace diversity efforts. I want to take them one at a time. The first one is common ends. What are the common ends of the two efforts?

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