Finance

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, along with allegations of plagiarism. 

Gay, the first black president of Harvard, has long been an advocate of diversity on campus and in organizations.

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 in higher education and business are “a political advocacy movement on behalf of certain groups that are deemed oppressed under DEI’s own methodology.”

Ackman also derided DEI initiatives as misguided because they seek to achieve “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. 


Harvard president resigns amid renewed plagiarism allegations weeks after antisemitism hearing

02:30

Ackman’s screed against DEI stands in stark contrast to the push to increase diversity following the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the ensuing public protests that sought to draw attention to systemic racism. Facing pressure to take action against racism within their own ranks, a range of prominent companies touted their efforts to broaden diversity. 

Four years later, numerous organizations are quietly winding down their DEI initiatives. And many enterprises now pulling back on diversity underinvested them in the first place, Jarvis Sam, founder and CEO of DEI firm The Rainbow Disruption and former diversity head at Nike, told CBS MoneyWatch.

For example, some corporations developed programs aimed at bringing diverse talent into their organizations at early stages in their careers, but without focusing on their development and retention or overhauling their corporate cultures, he said. But Sam also took issue with Ackman’s stance, in part because the hedge fund manager “conflates equity and equality.” 

“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.”


Soledad O’Brien shares inside look at documentary examining the end of affirmative action

05:22

According to Sam, the goal of DEI investments “is not about achieving identical outcomes for all, but for creating a 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 a 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 a specific demographic background.”

Is DEI dead?

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

“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. And 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,” he said. “However, any mission driven merely by a commitment to ‘do the right thing’ was unlikely to be sustainable.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *