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Affirmative Action
By: Anthony League

INTRODUCTION 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. BACKGROUND 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. GOALS AND QUOTAS 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. PROGRAM JUSTICATION 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,
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