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The Historical, Philosophical, moral, and Legal perspective on Affirmative Action

The term affirmative action means different things to different people. If you ask random people what Affirmative Action is, you will get different responses. Some will tell you it is about equal opportunity in the workplace. Others will say it is about reverse discrimination. Others consider it is a public policy to address the racist legacy in America.

Employers need to make sure that they are not using methods that limit opportunities for employees. They should see affirmative action as reaching out to ethnic minorities or women, creating diversity in the workplace, to achieve gender, race, and ethnic diversity. If you don't have the right people, regardless of their race and sex, you will have trouble getting your work done.

From a historical perspective, the term Affirmative Action was first used by President Kennedy in 1961 when he issued Executive Order 10925, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds or race, color, or national origin. The Order also required the government to take affirmative action to realize more fully the national policy of nondiscrimination. Out of this action, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was born. The EEOC is a government agency that enforces federal law prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws are enforceable for any company or agency that has more than 50 employees or a contract with the federal government totaling more than $150,000.

Other relevant legislative efforts are listed below:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: As amended, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • Age Discrimination Act of 1967: As amended, prohibits employment discrimination against individuals over the age of 40.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963: Prohibits compensation discrimination on the basis of gender for similar work under similar conditions.
  • Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Prohibits employment discrimination in the federal government against individuals with disabilities. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability in both the public and the private sector, but excludes the federal government.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991: Provides for monetary compensation in cases of intentional discrimination.

From a political perspective, affirmative action is a series of public policies and initiatives intended to alleviate past and present discrimination. Such policies are intended to promote social change in a positive way. Controversy attends the interpretation and implementation of these laws. Some people argue that these policies lead to the best employment policies that that helps everyone in an organization regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. Others are apt to call it reverse discrimination. Employers must enact practices to ensure discrimination does not take place while keeping careful employment records and data so this effort can be tracked. "The proper approach is to use affirmative action as a management tool to develop a strategic plan to determine if you have fairness in terms of diversity and fair labor practices. If you don't have the right people, regardless of their race and sex, you will have trouble getting your work done."

The 1978 Supreme Court case (Bakke vs. University of California at Davis) declared quotas illegal and set the boundaries for affirmative action. In this case, a college had set aside a specific number of places in each class in its medical school for qualified minority applicants. The Supreme Court declared such policies illegal. But the Court also decided that minority status might be used as a factor in admissions, because the goal of a diverse student body was a "compelling goal in an educational context." Affirmative action now requires employers to critically examine their hiring processes and demographics. Employers are required to post job vacancies in targeted populations like on, rather than rely on word of mouth, and develop a systematic process for evaluating and hiring candidates as a self-examination process that makes opportunities available to people who have not traditionally been represented in the workplace. "The policy says your only obligation is to hire people you believe are qualified," according to Alvarez. "It doesn't say that if you have two candidates, one who is white and one who is from an ethnic minority, that you have to hire the ethnic minority. All it says is that if there is a pattern of disproportionately excluding ethnic minorities and women, then the employer needs to explain the reason for the pattern. If there is a business reason for that pattern, then that's okay. But if there is no reasonable explanation, then there is a suspicion that discrimination might be taking place.

After almost 40 years on the books, affirmative action remains a controversial and often misunderstood public policy. Workers and employers are generally unsure of how it operates. People on both sides of the fence--minorities, women, whites, and men--frequently feel that the policy affects them unfairly. But defenders try their best to view the beleaguered policy in simple terms. It provides equal opportunity to everyone. Let our website help you achieve your Affirmative Action and Diversity Goals.

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