The Star Tribune reports that General Mills “is pressuring ad agencies to hire more women and people of color by imposing a diversity benchmark,” so that “the creative departments in agencies bidding for its business [will] be staffed at least half by women and 20 percent by people of color.” General Mills executives said, according to the report, that “they want the people who create its advertising to be more reflective of the people who consume their products.” A General Mills spokeswoman was quoted: “We’ll get to stronger creative work that resonates with our consumers by partnering with creative teams who understand firsthand the diverse perspectives of the people we serve.”
Translation: To figure out how best to sell a box of Cheerios to a black woman, you really have to be a black woman. That’s nonsense, and the real motive here is just the pressure to be politically correct.
The resulting discrimination cannot be justified. It’s certainly not moral to treat people differently because of skin color; there’s no empirical or historical evidence that, say, the Phoenicians would have been better traders if only they had had greater ethnic diversity; and it’s not logical to suppose that women cannot imagine what might appeal to men or vice versa. I discuss these problems in the broad context here.
But I’m a civil-rights lawyer so let me also point out the legal problems. Certainly it will violate the law for ad agencies to accede to General Mills’s pressure. As always, it’s helpful to put the shoe on the other foot: Could an employer refuse to hire black sales clerks on the grounds that its customers hated to deal with black people? Of course not, and it wouldn’t matter how stubborn or wealthy the customer was, and of course no judge would care about exploring the reasons for the customer’s desire for discrimination. There’s no “bona fide occupational qualification” for racial preferences under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination.
Is General Mills itself violating the law? Putting aside Title VII for a moment, there certainly seems to be a problem under 42 U.S.C. 1981, which makes it illegal to engage in racial discrimination in entering into contracts. And I don’t know if one can be held liable for conspiring to violate Title VII or pressuring someone to do so, but that’s exactly what General Mills is doing.