Affirmative Action stands like a wounded warrior in the battlefields of today\s political environment. Misconstrued, misused, challenged, defended and hailed as the program that has helped and hinder, is seldom truly understood for what it was designed to be. So what exactly is Affirmative Action?
As defined in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Affirmative Action is: “ . . . an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women also a similar effort to promote the rights or progress of other disadvantaged persons”. Nothing on that description states that Affirmative Action involves the hiring, retention or promotion of unqualified, incompetent people. Nevertheless, in many quarters that is the perception of some individuals who view Affirmative Action as preferential treatment, a program designed to eliminate the opportunity for White European people and as other means by which people of color and women are given unfair advantage.
Even when the technically correct definition of Affirmative Action is given, the fact that some people simply concentrate on the numbers may result in those being seen as maximums and not minimums. What I mean is that once they reach parity, similar percentage of individuals represented within the workforce in relationship to the availability potential workers of various groups in the recruitment area, employers see their responsibility for creating a multi-cultural workforce as ending. No more aggressive recruitment, no more Diversity management training, no more review of their employment practices and procedures. And that is exactly what end creating what I call “legal discrimination”.
Affirmative Action is a program, a legal mandate for those receiving federal and state funds. Whether a legal requirement or not Affirmative Action is a response to not only overt racial and gender discrimination, but also to all those prevalent practices that resulted in the disparate impact to people of color and women when recruiting, hiring, evaluating, training and promoting individuals in corporations and organizations across the U.S.A. Affirmative Action identifies those groups, who statistically are underrepresented in the workforce, based on the comparison between the available workforce in the area of recruiting and the composition of the employer’s workforce. Those figures do not on themselves condemn the employer as being racist or sexist. They simply indicate that specific initiatives and steps need to be taken to correct that imbalance.
Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. In this context it becomes imperative that we do not only create serious targeted strategies to recruit and hire people of color, women and other targeted group members but that we do review the manner in which we screen, select, hire, train and promote individuals regardless of race, ethnicity and other factors.
The reality in our country, our State, our city is that we are a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country. Talent and knowledge is not based on color or gender. These are qualities that can be found among people of all colors, ethnicities, national origins, gender, religions etc. Talent exists in small towns, mid-size cities and in every urban environment. There is good, bad and ugly in every place I have ever been. The key to meeting Affirmative Action’s objectives, goals and intent is to have and implement targeted and effective recruitment strategies and valid non-discriminating employment policies and procedures. It is to have an organizational culture that gives every applicant and employee the opportunity to succeed or fail under valid, job related expectations. It is to have an organizational culture that promotes respect, a harassment free environment and cultural competency of all managers, supervisors and employees.
Affirmative Action does key on activities targeted to increase the representation of particular groups of individuals. But it is my position that a true Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunities program will benefit and provide opportunities for every applicant and employee to be able to succeed and move forward in today’s work environment.