Jagaul.com Finance After exit of Claudine Gay, Bill Ackman paints bull’s-eye on diversity programs

After exit of Claudine Gay, Bill Ackman paints bull’s-eye on diversity programs

Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, a ringleader in the campaign to oust former Harvard University President Claudine Gay, is fixing his sights on another target that he says has facilitated racism at universities and in corporate America: diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Ackman penned a 4,000 word takedown of DEI programs, which he posted on social media platform X following the departure of Gay, who resigned on Wednesday over controversial testimony at a Capitol Hill hearing on antisemitism on college campuses, in addition to allegations of plagiarism. 

Gay was the first black president of Harvard and over the course of her six month tenure as president, had championed DEI policies.

In his post, Ackman claimed that such initiatives promote “an oppressor/oppressed framework,” one that in recent months fueled “anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate speech and harassment” on campus. 

The Harvard alumnus and major donor to the university said that while he believes in “true diversity” within organizations, DEI initiatives, as currently implemented across the higher education and business landscapes are “a political advocacy movement on behalf of certain groups that are deemed oppressed under DEI’s own methodology.”

Ackman said that DEI initiatives are misguided, largely because the “equity” part of the acronym is measured by “equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity.”

“DEI is inherently a racist and illegal movement in its implementation even if it purports to work on behalf of the so-called oppressed,” Ackman wrote. He also argued that the movement is responsible, in large part, for “growing divisiveness” in the U.S.

Indeed, the efficacy of such programs has been called into question, even by those who support the initiatives’ stated goals.

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Changing landscape

The diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program landscape looks different than it did toward the latter part of 2020. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, companies overwhelmingly invested in and prioritized programs aimed at increasing diversity within their organizations. Many at the time publicly touted their goals to increase diversity among their ranks and revamp cultures. 

Under increased scrutiny and even attack, many organizations are now quietly winding down their official diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, not long after these programs were momentarily a top corporate priority. 

Jarvis Sam, founder and CEO of DEI firm The Rainbow Disruption and former diversity head at Nike, told CBS MoneyWatch that a lot of organizations that have wound down their DEI programs underinvested them in the first place. 

For example, he said, some corporations developed programs aimed at bringing diverse talent into their organizations at early stages in their careers, without focusing on their development and retention, or implementing deep change in their corporate cultures.  

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“That kind of critique of the programs is justified,” Sam said. “But it’s important to distinguish between what DEI actually means and how it’s activated.”

He said takes issue with Ackman’s stance, in part because the hedge fund manager “conflates equity and equality.” 

Not a free ticket, but a fair shot

According to Sam, the goal of DEI investments “is not about achieving identical outcomes for all, but for creating level playing field so everyone has a fair chance to succeed.”

The addition of diversity criteria is not meant to exclude or disadvantage non-minorities, Sam argued. 

“It’s to say historically, talent from some backgrounds and experiences aren’t given fair shake to apply and engage in the competitive process for opportunities,” he said. “With good DEI we are not trying to control outcome. We never stated that having diversity criteria means we will, or have to land a talent that comes from specific demographic background.”

In other words, diversity criteria are designed to control the process, not the outcome. 

Is DEI dead?

Daniel Snell, co-founder of Arrival, a UK-based consulting firm focused on corporate leadership and culture, acknowledged the significant downturn in investment in DEI initiatives. 

“Many, if not most, large businesses are now unwinding their [DEI] commitments, as well as cutting staff, departments, external budgets, and programs connected to [DEI],” he told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Google and META have each cut DEI-related positions, as well as planned development training for minority hires. 

In a survey of more than 100 global leaders of major organizations, Arrival found that DEI initiatives have fallen from executives’ lists of top priorities.

Snell’s take on the survey responses is that DEI is “dead unless it unlocks performance.”

“It’s a pity that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver real change looks like it has come and gone,” Snell added. “However, any mission driven merely by a commitment to ‘do the right thing,’ was unlikely to be sustainable.

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