Las Jefas

Corporate America – Opportunity for Stepping up for Affirmative Action and DEI

By Marisa Rivera

This article is in memory of my dear friend and colleague Neddy Perez, who left us on June 30, 2023. She was an icon for DEI work in this country – long before it was even popular, a champion for “Las Mujeres” and a fearless leader that many people in Corporate America admired and respected. I used to call Neddy to share thought-provoking ideas on DEI and Women’s empowerment and I always respected her point of view and will miss her immensely. Her legacy of fighting for justice and equity for all will live on forever.

Corporate America has a huge opportunity to pick up the pieces after the Supreme Court ruled against Affirmative Action in race-conscious admissions in Higher Education and attacks on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility programs. Although affirmative action and DEI programs are under attack, we must work hand in hand with Corporations, educational institutions, business owners, and private sectors to provide additional programs, tuition reimbursement, scholarships, and access to underrepresented communities. This is imperative for America to succeed in a globally competitive market.

Education is everyone’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of our government leaders, our corporate and business leaders, our community leaders, educators, parents, and students, in other words, “We the People.” As stakeholders of the future of this great nation, we must assist in the preparation and education of our future workforce, they are our future employers, employees, and leaders. America is a land built upon its diverse workforce and immigrants. Many studies have shown that education, especially in prestigious institutions, did not have the diversity in their classrooms that reflected our communities of color. That is why Affirmative Action was created.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had some great pearls of wisdom about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a pocketbook (I picked up from Neddy’s bookshelf) called – Pocket RGB Wisdom – Supreme Quotes and Inspired Musings from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She said, “The greatest statement of equality is in the Declaration of Independence written by a slaveholder” – and “We have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world, and it starts with three words, “We the people”. We live in an age in which the fundamental principles to which we subscribe — Liberty, Equality and Justice for all — are encountering extraordinary challenges, but it is also an age in which we can join hands with others who hold to those principles and face similar challenges.”

We cannot bury our heads in the sand. The U.S. by 2045 will be a minority-majority and mixed races country (U.S. Census 2022), and we must educate and prepare all of America to stay competitive in a global market. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action, America’s higher education will find themselves at a loss for ways to maintain current enrollment levels of African American, Latinos, and Native American students at current levels. That is where Corporate America can step up with the opportunity to increase tuition reimbursements for their employees, scholarships and education programs that promote education for underrepresented communities, so they are highly prepared to be hired and promoted from within. The continuations of DEI and accessibility must continue if we want a well-educated workforce, and promote a strong economy, innovation, and productivity. Corporate America has an important role to play at this time in America. Let us not forget to promote our Constitutional principle of “Liberty-Equity and Justice for ALL. We all want a prosperous, educated, thriving and peaceful America. I know our Angel in heaven, Neddy Perez, will be watching.