Affirmative Action

What does Affirmative Action mean?

Affirmative action includes any step within the policies and practices of an organization, institution, or employer which are taken to improve the opportunities of a historically disadvantaged class or race, such as women and minorities. Most affirmative action policies have been focused on employment or educational opportunities.

The term affirmative action was first used in 1961 in an Executive Order by President Kennedy. Under his order, the Federal Government was instructed to “Take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

Goal of Affirmative Action

The goal of affirmative action is to ensure that all job applicants, including males, females and all races, are able to compete in the job market and have equal access to employment opportunities, including job training and development. Affirmative action does this by prohibiting discrimination and “leveling the playing field.” Affirmative action is not, however, about hiring job applicants who are not qualified to perform the job.

Benefits of Affirmative Action

Proponents of affirmative action hiring policies argue it can create a more diverse workplace, which could offer a wider possibility of problem solving and the ability to serve an increasing multi-cultural community. Affirmative action can also give businesses more opportunities to qualify for government contracts.

Affirmative action can also be viewed as a moral commitment to treat all workers with dignity, respect, and equality. These moral goals can foster the expectation that all workers, regardless of color or creed, will have opportunities within the workplace.

Disadvantages of Affirmative Action

Although the goals of affirmative action may be noble, there have been some long-term disadvantages of affirmative action policies. Some opponents of affirmative action now argue there is reverse discrimination, lower confidence of minority and women employees concerning their skill level, and the idea that some employees are not qualified to perform certain jobs but have been hired simply because of affirmative action policies concerning gender, race or ethnicity.

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