Can CRT Save DEI?: Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Shadow of Anti-Affirmative Action


Just four years after the nation’s summer of 2020 protests—sparked by the murder of George Floyd—culminated in a racial reckoning in which many organizations across the country instituted racial equity measures and policies, legislators across the nation are enacting anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) bans in a seeming backlash to this advocacy for racial justice. The bans simultaneously mischaracterize CRT as anti-White discrimination while strategically conflating it with workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Further inflaming the racially hostile public discourse is the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard (2023), which greatly narrows the constitutional grounds for race-based affirmative action by questioning the coherence of diversity as a goal for race-conscious, inclusive university admissions policies.

As a result, corporate actors are apprehensive about the continued viability of their multibillion-dollar investment in workplace DEI trainings. Moreover, given the significant role of DEI training as a remedy for antidiscrimination law violations, it is important for legal scholars to analyze the animating factors of the legal movement to outlaw workplace DEI trainings. This Article details how the worker frustration with individual bias-focused DEI trainings has dovetailed with the wrongful depiction of CRT, in ways that threaten the pursuit of racial equality.

The Article then explores a counterintuitive path forward of proposing a wholesale shift to CRT-framed DEI trainings as a defense against the attacks on individual bias-focused trainings. Social science research suggests that programs focused on systemic and structural issues make the difference between well-received and poorly received DEI interventions, yielding better results in increasing workplace diversity, retaining employees of color, and addressing harmful, racially disparate systemic policies. The focus on systemic and structural aspects of racism is the very heart of what CRT concerns itself with. Put together, what this means is what DEI actually needs is an infusion of CRT. Ironically, thanks to the legislative and political attacks on CRT, there is now greater public interest in learning what CRT is and what it has to offer. This Article concludes by providing concrete, evidence-based examples of what CRT DEI workplace training can be for antidiscrimination law remedies and beyond.

About the Author

Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law, Associate Director of Center on Race, Law & Justice, Fordham University School of Law. © Tanya Katerí Hernández.