How SCOTUS’ Affirmative Action Decision Could Reduce Diversity in Biopharma

Pictured: Candidates wait for a job interview/iStock, fizkes

Pictured: Candidates wait for a job interview/iStock, fizkes

The U.S. Supreme Court recently declared an end to race-conscious admission programs into colleges and universities, also known as affirmative action. This decision invalidated admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that took race into consideration when selecting qualified applicants, effectively ending the consideration of race as a factor to admit students to higher education.

While the decision specifically addresses pertains to college admissions, it may have far-reaching effects on diversity in hiring, Debbie Tang, partner and executive recruiter at executive search firm Bridge Partners, told BioSpace.

“Within a few years, there will be a change as a result of this decision,” Tang said.

Eliminating the use of race-conscious criteria could result in less diversity in universities, she said. And as a result, all the other candidate pools for jobs will also become less diverse.

“And that is going to trickle down to everything else within biotech, whether it’s on the science side or whether it’s on the executive side,” she added.

The Implications for the Workplace

Justice Clarence Thomas, one of two Black justices on the Supreme Court, stated that the decision to overturn affirmative action “sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences. . . . Those policies fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution.”

He added that while he is “painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen [his] race,” he hopes the country will live up to its principles that “all men are created equal.”

Affirmative action was previously overturned in 1998 when California voters approved a ban. Immediately following the ban, Black and Hispanic enrollments at Berkeley and UCLA fell 40%, Zachary Bleemer, a Princeton economist who’s studied the ban’s impacts on minority representation at University of California campuses, told NPR.

This decline was likely due to a combination of changes in admissions policies and a reluctance among non-white students to apply under such conditions, Bleemer said.

This outcome highlights the challenge companies, like universities, may face in recruiting and retaining diverse talent when affirmative action policies are no longer commonplace. Though the Supreme Court did not rule on affirmative action–type policies in the workplace, many people are pushing for a decrease in diversity initiatives at work.

For example, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who has previously announced his 2024 Republican presidential campaign, has backed and encouraged state officials’ decisions to enact legislation to limit diversity training in the workplace.

Ryan Whitacre, partner and executive recruiter at Bridge Partners, said all of these factors, combined with the SCOTUS decision, can make it more challenging to recruit a diverse workforce.

“If you, as an organization or a hiring company, want diversity, then you’re going to have to put some effort into it.”

What Companies Can Do

Deloria Nelson-Streete, president of Authentic Culture & Engagement Solutions, Inc., told BioSpace that the potential effects of the SCOTUS decision on hiring will only be exacerbated for those working in the industry, as the skill sets needed are often highly specific, and there is always competition in recruiting with other sectors like tech.

Still, she said, there are steps those who want to prioritize diversity in hiring can take.

“To mitigate this sourcing challenge, biopharma [companies] would need to proactively partner with diverse colleges or associations, create internships or [provide] emerging talent cohorts with specialized training to cultivate diverse talent,” she said.

These organizations include Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, which she said will likely see increased enrollment as a result of the SCOTUS decision. She added that companies can also look outside of universities to other groups in their search for talent, such as community organizations, professional networks and diversity-focused programs.

Whitacre concurred, adding that it may help organizations to focus less on degrees candidates have obtained and more on their individual skill sets.

“Be more intentional at the outset,” he said. “Don’t get stuck on programs and degrees or colleges and universities. Think about what this person is going to be doing and the type of individual and character traits and experiences that you want.”

Rosemary Scott is an editor at BioSpace, focusing on the job market and career development for professionals in the life sciences. You can reach her at and on LinkedIn.

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