PwC, one of the Big Four accounting firms with a workforce of 46,000 in the United States, has announced modifications to its diversity goals, citing the evolving legal landscape and recent Supreme Court rulings.
The adjustments come in the wake of pressure from right-wing activists and a significant Supreme Court decision against affirmative action.
In response to the changed legal backdrop, PwC has opted to apply more “rigour” to its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, resulting in the alteration of certain key initiatives.
Notably, the race-based eligibility criteria for a student internship program and scholarships aimed at aiding candidates in preparing for professional accounting exams have been eliminated, as revealed through executives and changes made to PwC’s official website.
The firm’s latest annual DEI report, released over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in the U.S., also discloses the abandonment of a pledge to allocate 40 percent of its procurement spending to minority-owned suppliers.
The Supreme Court’s June ruling against race-conscious university admissions prompted PwC and other companies to reassess their diversity initiatives, with legal analysts suggesting that considering an applicant’s ethnicity in hiring decisions might be deemed unconstitutional. Other corporations, such as Pfizer and Morrison Foerster, have similarly broadened the eligibility criteria for their diversity fellowships to include students of all races.
PwC’s DEI report acknowledges the Supreme Court ruling as one of the challenges faced in 2023, along with economic uncertainty and social unrest. The report states, “We’ve also reflected on the Supreme Court ruling and applied rigour to advance our diversity commitment in a way that fully accords with the changing legal landscape.”
Last year, PwC found itself under scrutiny from America First Legal (AFL), an activist group led by Stephen Miller, a former White House policy adviser under President Donald Trump. AFL argued that corporate diversity efforts, including PwC’s internship and scholarship programs, as well as supplier targets, could be legally questionable. The group sought an investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Reed Rubinstein, senior counsellor at America First Legal, commented on the changes, stating, “There are changes in nuance and emphasis, but this is still the same racial bean-counting that contrives to reduce individuals to their immutable characteristics in a way that is difficult to square with what the law requires.”
According to the DEI report, as of June 30, 2023, 55 percent of PwC’s U.S. employees were identified as white, while 22 percent identified as Asian, and 9 percent as Hispanic or Latino. Black employees accounted for 7 percent, consistent with the figures from 2022.
PwC’s Chief People Officer, Yolanda Seals-Coffield, emphasised that the commitment to attract a diverse workforce remains unwavering, stating, “Our commitment to attracting the most diverse and dynamic group of professionals hasn’t changed. Our commitment to cultivating an environment where all our professionals can thrive hasn’t changed. How we get there may face a few hurdles that it didn’t a year ago.”
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.