Affirmative action refers to a variety of policies, programs, and initiatives aiming to end discrimination against vulnerable or disadvantaged minority groups in the United States.
The phrase “affirmative action” was first used formally in executive orders signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, although there were other such federal orders in place since 1948.
Since then, the programs have only been expanded while being challenged in the courts and by specific laws prohibiting some forms of preferential treatment or affirmative action.
In the United States, affirmative action programs are often implemented to address historical inequalities in employment, education, housing, and other areas. The concept was originally developed to combat racial segregation and inequality.
How Does Affirmative Action Affect Different Groups?
The goal of affirmative action is to level the playing field for all persons regardless of their race, gender, or ethnicity. It was created to help make sure that groups historically deprived of equal opportunity would be able to compete equally in society.
This initially focused on helping racial, ethnic, and religious minorities — namely, women and people of color. This has since been revised to add protections for people of any age and people with disabilities.
Affirmative Action laws are in place at both the Federal and state level, with the strongest incentives being created through Executive Orders. The idea is to reach a point when all people are judged equally, regardless of their race or gender.
How Does Affirmative Action Work Today?
Many people see affirmative action as a way to reduce racial inequality in a country where African-Americans face discrimination for jobs and housing. Others view affirmative action programs as an unfair disadvantage to equally qualified candidates who are not Black or Hispanic.
This can sometimes result in issues if there is a large number of employees in the same minority group, causing the company to feel pressured to make decisions that may affect minority candidates unfairly (such as making them different from other candidates) or worse yet, violating federal laws.
Many ethnic minorities see these programs as unfair because they lack opportunities to succeed in business without help. Historically, affirmative action policies have been used to help minorities overcome systemic disadvantages they face in the workplace.
Why is Affirmative Action Important for Organizations?
A diverse, inclusive workforce can lead to better decisions and results. Companies that have diverse teams are more innovative, creative, and collaborative.
Employees from different backgrounds and experiences will also find their workplace more inclusive when diversity is embraced. This is done by open communication in the workplace, an inclusion strategy that supports the strengths of all teams, and an ability to work together despite cultural differences.
A diverse workforce has already proven to be a valuable asset, even as affirmative action laws continue to be discussed. Dynamic diversity solutions continue to evolve as technology and workforce demographics change at an ever-accelerating rate.