Breaking Down Bias: Legal Mandates vs. Corporate Interests
October 03, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1473
Jamillah Bowman Williams
Abstract: Bias and discrimination continue to limit opportunities and outcomes for racial minorities in American institutions in the twenty-first century. The diversity rationale, touting the broad benefits of inclusion, has become widely accepted by corporate employers, courts, and universities. At the same time, many view a focus on antidiscrimination law and the threat of legal enforcement as outmoded and ineffective. Thus, many organizations talk less in terms of the mandates of laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or a “legal case,” and more in terms of a “business case” where benefits of inclusion seem to accrue to everyone. It is easy to explain the appeal of the business case for diversity: it merges the goals of racial inclusion with business profitability and corporate interests. Antidiscrimination law, by contrast, is viewed as top down and coercive. But there is one major problem: there is little-to-no evidence that the business case for diversity actually reduces bias and promotes racial inclusion.
In this Article, I present experimental research findings that for the first time test the relative efficacy of the business case rationale versus a legal case for equity and inclusion. I find that inclusion efforts grounded in antidiscrimination law, or the legal case, are the most likely to curb widely held biases and promote equitable behavior. These findings challenge emerging scholarship that suggests legal justifications for integration are no longer effective. Despite the appeal of the business case for diversity, emphasis on corporate interests actually generate negative beliefs about inclusion and more biased decision making. Civil rights law, with a deeper historical, political, and moral grounding, appears to exert a stronger normative influence. Based on these findings, this Article argues that antidiscrimination law is still needed, not only for its exogenous pressure on organizations to promote inclusion but also for its normative effect on individual values, beliefs about inequality, and behavior.Download Full Article
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