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All requirements to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at North Carolina’s public universities were repealed last week. The decision, approved by the board that oversees the UNC System, was not unexpected, coming after a committee vote and a move to divert DEI funding at UNC-Chapel Hill to police and public safety. 

These decisions to ban, restrict, or defund DEI programs at the state’s public universities are part of national efforts to end DEI in state government and at institutions that benefit from public funding. In the last year, lawmakers in 28 states have introduced bills to restrict or end college DEI programs.

In the current political climate, attacks on DEI have become common as opponents mischaracterize the strategy as divisive and ineffective. The experience of generations of American women contradicts these baseless claims. In fact, business leaders should consider the broad and lasting economic and social benefits of one program that has successfully promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

Group of multi-ethnic soccer players celebrating huddled in circle after winning match

The undeniable success of Title IX

In 1972, as part of landmark civil rights legislation, Title IX was enacted, prohibiting gender-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. Since then, Title IX has helped generations of women find success on the playing field, in academia, and in corporate America. 

While most people associate Title IX with greater opportunities to play team sports, its reach extends much further. A global study of C-suite executives between 2013 and 2016 uncovered a direct correlation between athletics and business success: 94% of women executives have a background in sports (over half at a university level) and 80% of women Fortune 500 executives played competitive sports. According to Deloitte’s “Impact of Sports on Women’s Professional Success” report, 85% of women who played sports link it to their career success. And even though funding for men and women athletes is still unequal, many women have been able to further their education because of sports scholarships. 

More broadly, Title IX also protects women from discrimination when they pursue education in male-dominated (and higher-paying) professional fields like engineering, computer science, medicine, and business administration. 

Portrait of a female soccer team celebrating

The consequences of an anti-diversity climate

Despite recent anti-DEI actions at the state level, Title IX and other federal laws still protect individuals from discrimination based on race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, or national origin. Universities will also continue to fund programs and services that support “the academic performance, retention, or graduation of students from different backgrounds,” such as campus cultural centers and student-run organizations. 

The immediate fallout from the restrictions would be loss of jobs, as a previous policy had required each of the state’s 17 public campuses to employ diversity officers and work toward achieving diversity goals. Another consequence of the state’s anti-diversity climate is the chilling effect on recruiting and retention. Historically, North Carolina’s colleges and universities have attracted the best and brightest students, faculty, and staff. That could soon change, as we know that people want to work in inclusive environments. Why would top candidates come to a place where equity and inclusion aren’t – and by law can’t – be a priority? 

If we can approach equity and inclusion programs as strategies to increase individual opportunity, attract the most talented people, and cultivate broad economic success, then we start to see the long-term negative implications of restricting or ending DEI in higher education. North Carolina has a long and proud history of educating young people and preparing its residents for future success. Diversity programs continue the state’s mission, and ending them will undermine economic prosperity and business readiness for decades to come.

In our ideologically divided society, conversations between DEI critics and supporters can be difficult and common ground can be elusive. The historical success of diversity efforts is one path to agreement as is aligning DEI to business growth. For more advice on uncomfortable conversations, download “DEI Under Attack: A Guide to Understanding, Navigating, and Responding to DEI Skeptics.” 

And, as anti-DEI efforts are driven by political pressures, we also recommend that you find and contact your local state legislator at We suggest this resource for how to advocate for DEI.

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