The ad industry reacts to the reversal of Trump’s much-maligned executive order which threatened to punish agencies that offered diversity training that he deemed “divisive.”
In one of his first actions in the Oval Office, president Joe Biden has revoked a Trump administration executive order (EO) forbidding agency diversity training that it considered “divisive.” In fact, EO 13950, as it had been known, has been removed entirely from the White House website.
In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the ad industry went to great lengths to improve diversity hiring practices and to combat inherent racism. President Trump sent shockwaves throughout the industry, in September, when he threatened to cancel government contracts if agencies discussed unconscious bias, white privilege and other elements of “scapegoating.” Under EO 13950, agencies in violation could also be declared ineligible for future government contracts. A hotline was set up for employees to blow the whistle on training programs that did not comply.
Trump’s executive order “created a chilling effect on agency diversity training programs and prompted uncertainty as to what practices were legal,” says Alison Pepper, executive vice-president, government relations at the 4A’s.
“As a result, some agencies put their existing or planned training programs on hold until it was known if the EO would withstand judicial scrutiny, or if it would be overturned by a new administration. President Biden's revocation of EO 13950, which included restrictions on diversity training for federal contractors, is great news for agencies as federal contracting is a significant source of their business.”
What Biden’s executive order says
President Trump’s executive order was immediately condemned by civil rights groups. A federal judge blocked it last month. And, earlier this month, the Labor Department suspended the order ceasing any investigations and discontinuing the hotline. President Biden officially revoked it yesterday, replacing it with an executive order of his own.
‘The Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government‘ reads: “Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach. Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities.” The order then provides specifics for moving forward including “allocating federal resources to advance fairness and opportunity.”
Liza Craig, counsel in Reed Smith’s Global Regulatory Enforcement Group focusing on government contracting, says the EO lays outs the Biden administration’s policy “to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.
Perhaps most importantly, it directs the allocation of federal funding and resources to address the historic failure to invest sufficiently, justly, and equally in underserved communities. The administration is definitely making this a priority by calling for these equity activities to be funded.”
Biden's new executive order concludes with a revocation of Trump’s diversity training ban. Specifically, it reads: “The heads of agencies covered by Executive Order 13950 shall review and identify proposed and existing agency actions related to or arising from Executive Order 13950. The head of each agency shall, within 60 days of the date of this order, consider suspending, revising, or rescinding any such actions, including all agency actions to terminate or restrict contracts or grants.”
“Diversity, equity and inclusion leaders, allies and champions are relieved,” says Emily Graham, chief equity and impact officer, Omnicom Group. ”The reversal signifies a new dawn and it energizes us as we move forward with essential and critical work. The deep division related to DE&I issues and social justice are rooted in a lack of knowledge and understanding of complex, and often, emotionally charged topics. Training is part of our vaccine for this pandemic, and we need to disseminate it with speed.”
Gender identity and sexual orientation addressed
Another impactful action that was signed into law yesterday was ‘The Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.‘ It reads: “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.” It enforces prohibitions on “sex discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Reed Smith’s Craig says: “President Biden has also unapologetically declared his intent to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. This EO, in combination with the EO regarding racial equity are a clear signal that the administration is taking on the task of rooting out systemic racism with vigor.”
The 4A’s Pepper says the fact that president Biden has moved so quickly to revoke Trump’s EO “shows a real commitment from this new administration to support workplace diversity training efforts and underscores the importance of these efforts in building strong, inclusive workplaces that benefit everyone. Agencies in the federal contracting business can now move forward with the reassurance that their diversity training will not only be accepted but will likely be considered a benefit in securing federal contracts.”
Omnicom’s Graham adds: “We know DE&I isn’t a problem to solve, it is an opportunity and path forward – it is the present. Equity must be how we show up and who we are. Training is one important part of the puzzle, and we’ll be moving with full steam ahead.”