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Is Corporate America biased against white people?
Last week, 13 Republican Attorneys General wrote an open letter to the CEOs of the 100 biggest U.S. corporations. The letter, organized by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach (R) and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti (R), alleges that "racial discrimination in employment and contracting is all too common among Fortune 100 corporations and other large businesses." The Republican Attorneys General argue that these companies are biased against white people, "an inversion of the odious discriminatory practices of the distant past." They accuse corporations of "drawing crude lines based on skin color" in an effort to "provide opportunities to underprivileged Americans." Corporate America's treatment of white people, according to the Republican Attorneys General, is "immoral and illegal."
The purported justification for the letter was the Supreme Court's recent decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. In Students for Fair Admissions, the Supreme Court ruled that race-based affirmative action programs in college admissions are now illegal. The Republican Attorneys General suggest the ruling created new obligations for employers. "If your company previously resorted to racial preferences or naked quotas to offset its bigotry, that discriminatory path is now definitively closed," the Attorneys General state. "Your company must overcome its underlying bias and treat all employees, all applicants, and all contractors equally, without regard for race."
The legal analysis of the Republican Attorneys General is highly misleading. Students for Fair Admissions does not have any impact on corporations because affirmative action in employment situations, in almost all circumstances, is already illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned the consideration of race in hiring. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs targeted by the Republican Attorneys General are not affirmative action programs. Rather, DEI initiatives involve "expanding outreach for new hires, creating employee resource groups for underrepresented workers, and reducing bias in hiring through such practices as 'blind' applications."
After the ruling in Students for Fair Admissions, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) emphasized that corporate diversity efforts could continue. "It remains lawful for employers to implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs that seek to ensure workers of all backgrounds are afforded equal opportunity in the workplace," EEOC chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement.
But although the letter's legal analysis is flawed, it raises important empirical questions: Is corporate America biased against white people? Are white people being shut out of desirable jobs to accommodate an influx of racial minorities? The answer to these questions is "no."
Corporate America continues to be dominated by white people
The ability of white people to obtain work in corporate America is not a matter of speculation. There is hard data.
Each year, companies are required to send a form to the EEOC, the EEO-1, which counts workers by race, ethnicity, and gender. The EEOC does not release this information to the public, but USA Today obtained most of the forms from corporations in the S&P 100, an index of large U.S. public companies.
There are 533 named executive officers in the securities filings of the S&P 100. These are the top positions with the most pay, power, and prestige. In 2022, white people held 83.3% of these positions, significantly exceeding their 75.5% share of the U.S. population. Conversely, Black people hold just 4.69% of the top executive positions in the S&P 100, even though they represent 13.6% of the U.S. population. 14 companies in the S&P 100 have top executive teams that are exclusively white.
This data does not reflect how much corporate America is still dominated by white men. In 2022, 69.61% of the top executive positions were held by white men, which is nearly double their share of the U.S. population. Conversely, in 2022, Black women held just 1.1% of the top executive positions — six positions — but comprised 7% of the U.S. population. The situation is even worse for Hispanic women and Latinas, who "comprised just 0.4% of named executive officers." Hispanic women and Latinas are "underrepresented by eighteenfold when compared with their share of the workforce."
The pattern holds at large corporations even as you work down the corporate ladder. For example, "of the 2,610 employees Amazon classified as executives in 2020," just 37 (1.4%) were Black women. Overall, in the S&P 500 — a slightly larger index of major U.S. public companies — "white men, who dominate the corporate executive ranks, are almost 8 times as likely as Black women to be an executive."
Most major corporations still put a disproportionate number of white people in executive positions — and it is costing them money. A 2020 McKinsey report found that corporations with ethnically diverse executive teams were 36% more likely to financially outperform their competitors than corporations with executive teams that lack diversity. More diverse corporate leadership teams are associated with "better decision-making… new approaches to problem-solving and greater levels of engagement."
The Republican Attorneys General, however, believe that illegal preferences for non-white people are robbing white people of employment opportunities. In other words, they believe that white people are currently underrepresented in corporate America.