This pending demographic tidal wave gave business leaders a new reason to care about race- and sex-conscious policy

Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

American companies’ embrace of radical ideas appears both sudden and inexplicable:

The story starts in the civil rights era — not with marches, sit-ins, and the broader social movement, but with the sprawling bureaucracy that this movement produced. Lyndon B. Johnson’s landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 dramatically expanded the responsibilities of the executive and judicial branches, compelling regulators to intervene in education, housing, and welfare. It also created new regulatory entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to carry out its mandates. “Civil rights ideology,” writes journalist Christopher Caldwell, “especially when it hardened into a body of legislation, became, most unexpectedly, the model for an entirely new system of constantly churning political reform.”

The new regime, however well intentioned, came with a complexity that private enterprise struggled to understand. As sociologists Frank Dobbin and John Sutton have argued, the machinery of civil rights suffered from many of the problems that plague the rest of the U.S. regulatory state. It was ambiguous, in that it broadly prohibited discrimination without clearly articulating what that meant; it was continuously expanding, so corporations constantly had to update their awareness of relevant rules; and it was fragmentary, in that it was carried out by redundant and often conflicting agencies at different levels of government. Such terms as “affirmative action” and “discrimination” were rarely defined, their meanings always in flux.

Still, enforcement took off in the 1970s as both political parties embraced the new apparatus. The doctrine of disparate impact, enshrined by the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1971 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., lowered the burden of proof for bias. Richard Nixon set up “goals and timetables” for corporate affirmative-action commitments and established hiring quotas for federal contractors, Gerald Ford promulgated regulations mandating bilingual education, and Jimmy Carter consolidated enforcement power under the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), while welcoming “hundreds of complaints” against employers for various violations. Under all three presidents, the EEOC aggressively targeted some of America’s biggest employers, including AT&T, General Electric, and Ford.

Facing the dual challenges of inscrutable regulation and aggressive regulators, businesses responded by complying with the new mandates for race-consciousness under the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII. They implemented race-conscious policies to avoid the ire of regulators and the risk of lawsuits or federal investigations. Diversity consultants Rohini Anand and Mary-Frances Winters note that corporate trainings were primarily legalistic affairs, “a litany of dos and don’ts and maybe a couple of case studies for the participants to ponder.” As civil rights regulations grew, so did corporations’ tools for complying. In 1970, Dobbin observes, fewer than 20 percent of firms had written equal-employment or affirmative-action rules; by 1980, after a decade of heavy-handed enforcement, nearly half had done so.


Corporations were not going to give up race-conscious policy just because Reagan told them to, but they needed a rationale for continuing to pursue it. The Reagan administration unwittingly handed them one with Workforce 2000, a 1987 report commissioned by the Department of Labor and authored by two fellows at the Hudson Institute that unexpectedly became a bestseller. The report’s blockbuster finding: by the end of the millennium, only 15 percent of those entering the workforce would be white men, while the large remainder would be women and minorities. This pending demographic tidal wave gave business leaders a new reason to care about race- and sex-conscious policy — namely, the need to create a workplace that could cater to a wide variety of workers.


While the business case for diversity still commands the support of corporate leaders, it is empirically lacking. Workforce 2000’s most sweeping conclusion — that by the turn of the century, white men would make up just 15 percent of new entrants to the workforce—was wrong. In reality, those entering the workforce by 2000 would look much like those in 1987. Even today, the workforce remains majority white, particularly at the top end of the skill distribution, where the economy is growing fastest. The demographic tidal wave never came.

Meantime, research generally doesn’t support the notion that diversity is good for the bottom line.


If the findings on diversity and productivity are ambiguous, the evidence for whether diversity trainings or similar programs succeed is unambiguously negative.


  1. Wang Wei Lin says:

    “The purpose of government is to interfere.”

    — Frederic Bastiat

  2. Bruce says:

    Affirmative Action is patronage politics. ‘We will have the n———— vote forever’ said D-LBJ, and no voting block eligible for Affirmative Action has voted against the D for sixty years.

  3. Altitude Zero says:

    Yep. Lots of “Civil Rights” measures are just old-fashioned Tammany Hall corruption dressed up in moral drag – and of course, as pointed out above, that’s pretty much what it was intended to be. History will record that the constitutional order and the demographic make up of the US was destroyed so that a few politicians could win elections. And to think, I used to view the politicians of late-Republican Rome as being petty, corrupt, and venal…

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