(Bloomberg) -- The corporate-speak about diversity is getting an update.

On the way out: Phrases like “anti-racist,” “unconscious bias” and “mandatory allyship.”

On the way in: Softer, vaguer terms designed to avoid controversy — or, as often as not, no terms at all.

Take Uber Technologies Inc. Not long ago, the ride-share giant said it wasn’t enough for the company to be not racist. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Uber promised to be anti-racist — a squishy term encompassing efforts to counter systemic racial prejudice.

Now, “anti-racist” has been struck from its latest corporate filings. Similar edits are getting penciled in at a wide range of companies as businesses big and small grapple with the conservative backlash against diversity initiatives.

The changes might seem cosmetic. But taken together, they point to the new reality around diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.

Companies are under increased scrutiny after the US Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in university admissions in June, raising concerns that future rulings might curb corporate diversity efforts. At the same time, the decision has emboldened conservative groups to file lawsuits and target dozens of companies — from BlackRock Inc. to Macy’s Inc. — over initiatives to hire underrepresented workers. Billionaires including Bill Ackman and Elon Musk have seized on the debate, launching their own public campaigns against DEI.

Read: Tesla Drops Minority-Worker Language After Musk’s DEI Rants

“Companies are being responsive and sensitive to changing political environments on DEI initiatives because the pushback has led to lawsuits,” said Tom C.W. Lin, a professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. “They are aware of the litigation surrounding these issues.”

Uber and Citigroup Inc., which had previously touted “anti-racist practices” in its lending business, both dropped the phrase from regulatory filings in February. 

A spokesperson for Uber said that its filing talks about how the company strives to “fight racism,” and declined to comment further. Citigroup’s 10-K “does not reflect any change in our commitment to financial inclusion or to diversity, equity and inclusion,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The revisions were among more than a dozen diversity-related edits in annual filings at large US companies this year as opponents of corporate DEI programs ramp up their search for evidence of bias in corporate hiring policies.

10-K Fixes

The changes are showing up in the companies’ annual regulatory filings, also known as 10-Ks, where they give detailed information about performance, goals and risks. The modifications were found using the Bloomberg Redline function which compares similar documents for alterations in wording. Of the 82 filings reviewed by Bloomberg News, about one in five either removed diversity language or substituted words that could be deemed less controversial. All those companies had used the original wording in at least two previous filings.

Many, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and United Parcel Service Inc., dropped references to specific groups like women and LGBTQ workers that their diversity initiatives were meant to help. Coca-Cola Co. dropped references to a program focused on promoting women into more senior roles after three years of mentions.

Caterpillar Inc. and Amgen Inc. removed references to their membership in the OneTen Coalition, which was formed in 2020 with a goal of helping to recruit or promote one million Black workers into middle class jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. Colgate Palmolive Inc. removed mentions of mandatory allyship training.


Other firms focused on tweaking language around hiring practices and pay. For example, CVS Health Corp. no longer mentions the incorporation of a “diversity metric” to a cash incentive program for its senior-most leaders that was introduced in 2021. Citizens Financial Group Inc. no longer refers to a goal of having women and people of color make up at least 50% of the candidates for mid- and senior-level roles. 

A spokesperson for Citizens said this recruitment goal remains an aspiration. A spokesperson for JPMorgan said the bank remains committed to diversity, and a spokesperson for Caterpillar said the company continues to support initiatives that were removed from the filing. A spokesperson for CVS said the company is focused on “incentivizing” senior leaders to create an inclusive culture. 

Representatives for UPS, Coca-Cola and Amgen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

He said that in some cases companies are minimizing details of their initiatives “because just a few lines on a 10-K can be rife for misimpression about a program that might be quite complex.” Bhabha declined to comment on the specific examples in the Bloomberg News analysis.

Too Risky

To be sure, even though the language is changing, only 1% of companies reported a “significant decrease” in their DEI efforts, according to a survey by global employment law firm Littler in January. However, the poll of more than 300 US-based C-Suite executives found that most chief diversity officers said there had been some change to their companies’ DEI approach as a result of the Supreme Court decision. Only 11% of diversity leaders said their companies were increasing efforts around social justice initiatives. 

For some American businesses, promoting their DEI credentials or taking a public stance on a social issue is no longer worth the risk, said Jill Fisch, a business law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

“Calling yourself an ‘anti-racist’ company is a great example of political posturing,” Fisch said. “It’s a label. It’s not some commitment, it’s not some specific action. Companies might be seeing a downside in playing into this hyper polarization.”



--With assistance from John Tozzi.

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