‘Affirmative action’ and ‘equal opportunity’ are two terms that shed light on the modern workplace. Fifty years ago, jobs went to candidates who were well educated and highly experienced – and in many cases, this meant Caucasian men. But today, measures have been taken to ensure everyone – regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual preference – has the right to not only seek work, but also receive consideration for substantial appointments.
In 1995, the US Commission on Civil Rights defined affirmative action as: “any measure, beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, that permits the consideration of race, national origin, sex, or disability, along with other criteria, and which is adopted to provide opportunities to a class of qualified individuals who have either historically or actually been denied those opportunities and/or to prevent the recurrence of discrimination in the future.”
The concept of affirmative action in the United States dates back to the 1960s, when the Kennedy Administration introduced the term to address economic and educational disparities between the colored and non-colored. In 1969, President Nixon enacted the Philadelphia Plan, which targeted companies with federal contracts and the labor unions they employed. Four years later, Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 called for affirmative action in all federal agencies.
Subsequent court decisions also played a significant role; these included Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), which upheld racial quotas for colleges, and City of Richmond v. JA Cronson Co. (1989), which called for a strict standard of affirmative action for state and local agencies. Then, in 1994, the US ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). This policy prohibited ethnic bias in all areas of public life, including employment, education, housing and health care.
All of these events precluded nationwide implementation of affirmative action, which was spearheaded by President Clinton during his second term and has (for the most part) remained in place to this day. Its retention has been crucial, as the American cultural fabric has continued to become more diverse. According to the 2010 US Census, nearly three quarters of the American population are Caucasian. The remaining quarter of the population is divided among Hispanic Americans (12.5 percent), African-Americans (12.3 percent), Asian Americans (3.6 percent), Native American and Alaska Natives (0.9 percent), and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (0.1 percent).
Affirmative action’s popularity has waned in recent years, with many critics arguing that its basis is unethical and unconstitutional. However, a 2010 study by the makers of the ACT demonstrated that vast economic and educational disparities still exist within the United States. The study, which targeted high school seniors in Michigan, broke down a prospective college applicant pool of 1,000 students from that state. The final numbers were: 796 European Americans, 141 African-Americans, 23 Asian Americans and 4 Hispanic Americans. However, based on the low qualifying scores in math, science, social studies and English among certain groups, a more realistic entering class would be roughly 92 percent white, 4% Asian, 3% African-American and less than 1% Hispanic.
These figures can be linked to nationwide employment statistics. In fiscal year 2010, roughly 2.8 million men and women were employed by the federal government. Roughly 56 percent of these individuals were men, while 65 percent were white. State and local agencies were a little more balanced in terms of race and gender; women comprised roughly 46 percent of this workforce, while 33.5 percent of these employees were not Caucasian. However, wage disparities are still a factor; in terms of median annual income, men earned roughly $9,000 more than women, while white and Asian employees earned significantly more than black, Hispanic, and Native American employees.
American Association for Affirmative Action: A non-profit organization founded in 1974.
US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission: An organization that enforces federal laws making it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant on the basis of race, sex (including pregnancy), religion, sexual preference or disability.
National Association for Female Executives: Founded in 1972, this is one of the largest women’s professional organizations in the US.
Business and Professional Women’s Foundation: A group that funds research about the professional standing of American women, in terms of factors like education, job training and Internet access.
Nemnet Minority Recruitment: An online resource for minorities who want to pursue careers in education and school administration.
A Mighty River: An online networking site for African-American professionals.
EOE Journal: Founded in 1996, this recruitment journal is widely distributed at colleges, tech schools, career fairs, workforce offices and government agencies.
Equal Opportunity Magazine: Founded in 1968, this quarterly publication spotlights career opportunities for American minorities.
Workforce Diversity: Founded in 1994, this magazine strives to create diverse professional environments with the inclusion of women, racial minorities, disabled individuals – as well as non-disabled, white males.
African-American Career World: Founded in 2001, this publication serves as a link between employers and African-American students/job seekers.
Hispanic Career World: Founded in 2001, this publication serves as a link between employers and Hispanic students/job seekers.
Careers & the Disabled: Founded in 1986, this is the only American publication that spotlights career opportunities for disabled men and women.
Woman Engineer: Founded in 1979, this publication serves as a link between qualified female engineers and nationwide engineering firms.
Minority Engineer: Founded in 1979, this publication serves as a link between qualified minority engineers and nationwide engineering firms.
Will Affirmative Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?: A look at some potential consequences of widespread affirmative action.
National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives: A list of articles that are related to affirmative action and African-Americans.
Bibliography on Race, Gender and Affirmative Action: An extensive database of articles and information related to affirmative action.
Affirmative Action: A Review of Psychological and Behavioral Research: An extensive evaluation of affirmative action by the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc.
Affirmative Action and its Mythology: A look at some of the societal misconceptions about affirmative action.