Considering the subject of affirmative action the following questions frequently are raised: Is there a clear understanding of affirmative action roles/goals? What are the pros/cons of these programs? What are the “loop holes” in the system? Does seniority play a role in affirmative action? Addressing these key questions may help us all in our daily routine, as administrators and/or potential administrator in the public/private sector. Affirmative action programs throughout the United States have long been a controversial issue particularly concerning employment practices (public/private) and university student and/or staff recruitment.
Most public agencies have some type of instituted affirmative action program. According to Cheryl Perry-League, Director of Equal Opportunity of the Port of Oakland, every business operating on Port of Oakland owned land must have a standing affirmative action program on record and businesses bidding to do work for the Port of Oakland must have an acceptably diverse workforce. To understand the role and/or goals of affirmative actions programs we should define what the broad definition of what affirmative action is and what caused its development. The phase “affirmative action” was used in a racial discrimination context.
Executive Order No. 10,925 issued by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The order indicated that federal contractors should take affirmative action to ensure job applicants and employees are treated “without regard to their race, creed, or national origin. ” A person could define this statement as an order to imply equal access and nothing else. Subsequently, Executive Order 11246 issued by President Johnson in September 1965, “mandated affirmative action goals for all federally funded programs and moved monitoring and enforcement of affirmative action programs out of the White House and into the Labor Department.
Affirmative action “refers to various efforts to deliberately take race, sex, and national origins into account to remedy past and current effects of discrimination. Its primary goal is to ensure that women and minorities are widely represented in all occupations and at all organizational levels” (Tompkins, 1995, p. 161). Another definition of affirmative action according to Barbara Bergmann is “planning and acting to end the absence of certain kinds of people-those who belong to groups that have been subordinated or left out-from certain jobs and schools” (1997 p. 7).
Tracing the history of affirmative action, laws against racial discrimination have proved inadequate for workplace integration because they often provide remedies only after the fact. Affirmative action requires proactive steps to provide equal opportunities in employment as well as access to education. Many affirmative action programs were born from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII references to affirmative action programs were brought about “because of the history of discrimination in the United States, certain groups are viewed as disadvantage in the current marketplace.
Thus affirmative action laws impose temporary requirements to correct underutilization of these groups (e. g. , goals and timetables for increasing the number of minorities and women in a facility)” (Gutman, 1993, p. 9). Prior to these laws and the Title VII law, the U. S workforce was primarily dominated by white males. Although, still somewhat white male dominated, quotas that were designed through affirmative action programs have helped achieve some representation of women and minorities in the current work force.
Some remedies brought about through affirmative action programs include goal setting, quotas, and timetables. The term goal “refers to specific outcomes which, when achieved, will result in equal employment opportunity and equitable representation” (Hall & Albrecht, 1979, p. 47-78). Goals and hiring quotas vary somewhat in their function. Goals generally are long range plans that organizations use and there are no expected minimum or maximum limitations. Quotas by comparison, “establishes a definite number of people who must be hired.
A Company cannot by law, use quotas unless it has been ordered to do so by a court to remedy a past action” (Hall & Albrecht, 1979, p. 47-78). Deficiency correction is the primary target of goal setting through affirmative action. For an organization to be effective with goals, they must be realistic, attainable, and monitored by the human resource department. Affirmative action programs generally achieve their set goals through several common practices called outreach programs.
First, there are special recruiting programs where women and minorities will most likely be found. These special outreach programs often target black universities and female dominated educational facilities. A second outreach program involves special advertising. Generally, this is also implemented in areas that are heavily populated by women and minorities similar to that of recruiting programs. Through outreach programs like the ones mentioned above, goals can be attained to achieve equity and representation without forgoing higher educated and skilled applicants.
These programs can be justified because discrimination is still apparent in the United States today. A 1990 study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that the majority of white Americans still believe blacks to be inferior. For example, 53% of non-black respondents said they thought blacks were less intelligent than whites, 62% said they thought blacks were less patriotic, 62% said they thought blacks were lazier, and 78% said they thought blacks “preferred to live off welfare.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of national standardize tests, evaluates students on their proficiency in reading, writing and science. They divide and compare these results to better understand the effectiveness of public schools. Their results suggest a large imbalance in the educational quality received by whites and other races. The most noticeable imbalance in the three fundamentals of learning was the most important, reading. When students cannot read well, they usually cannot succeed in other subject areas.
With the background of affirmative action and its programs established we should evaluate some of the problems with affirmative action and if affirmative action programs work. Opponents against affirmative action programs often believe that the system currently in place is a misuse of the original intent of affirmative action. The programs as they apply now are detrimental to the operation of the job market, to white males, and to the groups it is supposed to benefit. They further contend affirmative action causes reverse discrimination.
It is not good practice for Opponents “pro” affirmative action to use it as a way to make up for past discrimination. Another problem caused by affirmative action is that it often places a stigma on any groups, which receive preferential treatment, especially on individuals who earn positions because of their ability. Opponents of affirmative action programs believe that these programs when handled properly through the human resources department within an organization can minimize the negative references received regarding hiring practices.
Nye states “that positive information regarding an employee’s job qualifications should minimize assumptions of incompetence associated with affirmative action hiring programs. In other words, when co-workers have information that clearly describes an individual’s job qualifications, they should be less likely to assume that he or she was hired solely on race or gender”(1998). By making this information available within the organization, it would help remove the pressures from the employee and co-worker regarding the hiring practices.
This could further help the organization in the area of productivity, public relations within the community, and morale. By increasing morale, you maybe able to retain more employees, recruitment made easier, and motivate employees into a very competitive workforce. Opponents of affirmative action also do not believe that women and minorities will be treated fairly without affirmative action programs. Opportunities in today’s workplace are extremely competitive. Glazer states that “the battle over affirmative action today is a contest between a clear principle on the one hand and a clear reality on the other.
The principle is that ability, qualifications, and merit, independent of race, national origin, or sex should prevail when one applies for a job or promotion, or for selective institutions for higher education, or when one bids for contracts. The reality is that strict adherence to this principle would result in few African Americans getting jobs, admissions, and contracts” (1998). With that being said, women and minorities cannot possibly have a fair chance in today’s society without positive affirmative action programs.
However, with affirmative action, it has been noted that their incentives to achieve success may be decreased because “preferential treatment can lead to the patronization of minorities and women workers and students. By “patronization” I mean the setting of a lower standard of expected accomplishment because of the belief that these people are not as capable of meeting a higher standard” (Loury, 1997). With a white male dominated workforce, negative public perceptions, and low self-esteem of applicants, affirmative action offers a solution for race and gender equity.
Further stated, everyone in America should be afforded equal opportunity. If this cannot be achieved voluntarily, then we must continue to take action to remedy these situations. Opponents of affirmative action won a landmark victory, in 1998, with the passage of California’s Proposition 209. This proposition abolished all public-sector affirmative action programs in the state in employment, education and contracting. Clause(C) of Prop. 209 permits gender discrimination that is “reasonably necessary” to the “normal operation” of public education, employment and contracting.
In 1998, The ban on use of affirmative action in admissions at the University of California went into effect. UC Berkeley had a 61% drop in admissions, and UCLA had a 36% decline. This decline strengthens the position of the Pro side of affirmative action. However, a contingency plan has been established. According to a source (who asked to remain nameless), UC Berkeley has a program to actively recruit more minority students that falls out of the guidelines established by prop. 209. These types of “loop holes” can ultimately hurt the various studies on the effectiveness of anti-affirmative action laws.