Hiring or admitting students in a university with diversity in mind doesn’t just help the individuals hired; it’s also good for business.
That was the message delivered by Larry D. Thompson, an executive and general counsel for PepsiCo Inc., at the Black Faculty and Staff Organization Founders Award Scholarship Luncheon on Sept. 5.
“I don’t talk about or espouse diversity today because it’s the fashionable thing to do,” said Thompson, who last year taught classes on corporate responsibility at the university as the John A. Sibley Professor of Corporate and Business Law in the School of Law. “I appreciate and try to advance diversity because it has been a real, meaningful and important part of my professional life, and because my clients, including my corporate clients, have directly benefited in the legal matters they have entrusted me to handle because of my diverse background and experience.”
In his message to students who were being awarded scholarships and nearly 350 other attendees at the event, Thompson tried to answer a question he said is still lurking in political, legal, academic and business realms, “Do we still need diversity today?”
It’s a relevant question this year as the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this fall in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin–—a case in which the court could overturn the college’s use of race in undergraduate admission decisions and have greater repercussions on encouraging diversity.
Despite progress, creating a diverse environment still “is a challenge we not only face in higher education but in the law profession,” he said.
Thompson acknowledged that he has personally benefited from diversity consideration in his legal career including becoming the first African American to be hired as legal counsel for agriculture company Monsanto out of law school.
Given the make-up of society, he said, the clients who hire lawyers with diverse backgrounds are at an advantage.
“Diversity today does not involve some well-intended philosophy to provide social benefits for the so-called disadvantaged,” he said. “Quite frankly, it involves what smart, highly qualified people, like you students in the audience, can bring to the table with your great education at the University of Georgia and what you have been exposed to in a diverse university setting. You, majority and minority students, can help companies like PepsiCo make money and help organizations achieve better results.”
He pointed to studies showing that businesses with effectively run diversity programs lead to higher sales, more customers and higher profits.
“The business rationale for diversity is clear. Minority populations are growing faster than the population overall,” he said.