The Diversity Double Standard

58 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2011 Last revised: 17 Dec 2012

Date Written: March 31, 2011


In Grutter and Gratz (2003), the twin cases that challenged the University of Michigan’s affirmative action programs, corporate America praised educational diversity as a compelling interest. But as is well known, it did so not on social justice grounds but on the empirical claim that “diversity is good for business.” In particular, education in a diverse environment would produce better workers for an increasingly global and competitive economy. This position has since been echoed in corporate pronouncements about diversity in corporate workplaces and boardrooms. Generally speaking, corporations have justified voluntary affirmative action within the firm only to the extent that it furthers their bottom line – i.e., only if there is a “business case” for diversity. On the surface, the corporate stances toward educational diversity on the one hand and corporate diversity on the other hand seem entirely consistent. Both emphasize a consequentialist logic and economic rationale. But if one probes more deeply, an intriguing distinction appears. Regarding corporate diversity, corporations are advocating nothing more than what is already in their own economic self-interest. By contrast, when it comes to educational diversity, corporations recommend it regardless of the university’s economic self-interest. This Article argues that these positions amount to a double standard. After justifying this characterization, this Article provides a possible explanation for why the double standard exists by drawing on the psychology of human sociality in order to explore how we think differently about the commercial and educational realms. It concludes by pointing out that in light of this double standard, corporate America’s public position on diversity amounts to little more than support for diversity in the abstract so long as corporations don’t have to pay for it.

Keywords: diversity, corporate diversity, workplace diversity, educational diversity, nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, corporate philanthropy, commercialization of universities, social psychology, prosociality, prosocial behavior, crowding out theory, market norms, communal norms

Suggested Citation

Kim, Sung Hui, The Diversity Double Standard (March 31, 2011). North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 89, 2011; UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 11-08. Available at SSRN:

Sung Hui Kim (Contact Author)

UCLA School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

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