Using research references written by Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander, Laura P. Hartman, Raina Kelley, Brian Lilley and Jonathan Stempel, I examined the results of their findings in relation to my project. Based on their information, I determined affirmative action is still an instrumental tool in balancing the work force in the United States. There are still jobs that are out of reach for certain minority groups. As long as this imbalance exists so does the need for affirmative action.
Do We Need Affirmative Action?
Is affirmative action still needed in today’s society? Some people do not think so; others do. I believe affirmative action is still necessary as long as a minority group of people (Blacks, Hispanics, Women, etc.) attempting to acquire jobs in certain markets believes they are not getting those jobs because they are being discriminated against by the majority group that holds them. I will attempt to present some sources to reinforce my conclusion. I will discuss the original purpose of affirmative action and present some cases being discussed or ruled on in present day courts. I hope to show that affirmative action expands opportunity by promoting inclusion of underrepresented minorities in all areas of the job market and it is not intended to take jobs away from those in the majority.
I’ve been in the military since 1987. The military has a zero tolerance rule for any type of discrimination and it’s strictly enforced from the top officer down to the lowest ranking Airman. That doesn’t mean that all groups (blacks, whites, Hispanics, etc.) hang out and get along with each other after duty hours because we didn’t back then and we still don’t today. It does mean that when an Airman reports to work every day, he or she can expect to be treated equally just like everyone else of equivalent rank. If a person feels they are discriminated against, there are options in place for corrective action without having to take someone to court for a ruling unlike the civilian community. Having over 20 years of military service, it wasn’t until taking this human resources class that I began to think about how workers have been and are being treated in the civilian world and the rules that govern them. The civilian requirements for employment are more diverse than those of the military. That diversity requires the right kind of laws to ensure equality for everyone. What is affirmative action? What is it designed to do? As Bennett-Alexander and Hartman (2009) state, “At its simplest, affirmative action involves the employer taking steps to expand job opportunities in an effort to bring qualified women and minorities (or others statutorily mandated groups) into a workplace from which it has been determined that they are excluded, in order to make the workplace more reflective of their availability in the workforce from which the employees are drawn” (p. 215) Based on the definition alone, I’m sold on the need for its existence in our country’s laws. America is often referred to as a melting pot. Our country is comprised of so many different cultures seeking an opportunity for a better life through employment. Affirmative action is a positive policy that will effectively create more equal opportunities for these groups seeking employment in the United States since, in most cases they are seen as a minority. It will also assist in maintaining diversity in those job markets that may require it.
However, if it is used to give the unqualified person a chance over the qualified person, its original principle of creating equality is totally warped. This is one factor that I believe leads most people to think affirmative action is no longer needed and should be done away with. Kelley noted “Sadly, though, the phrase “affirmative action” has become code for choosing unqualified minority candidates instead of qualified white people. A survey done last year by Quinnipiac University found that more than 70 percent of voters think diversity is not a good enough reason to give minorities preferential treatment. And that’s despite the fact the number of people who fall under the protection of such programs has continued to grow—women, Hispanics, gay men and lesbians, the disabled, even white men have been the beneficiaries of more inclusive hiring practices. As long as people remain convinced that affirmative action is about giving minorities preferential treatment, they will also remain ignorant of the fact that affirmative action works on behalf of all people” (2010, para. 3). I think the survey noted in the article shows that more employers and supervisors should be educated on the purpose of affirmative action. In no way does it require a company or employer to hire an unqualified person for a position because they fall into one or more minority groups. If I believed as these people do, I would also want the law to end.
One premise to support affirmative action is that it is consistent with merit. One of its principles is that the basic decision must be made upon the ability of the person, not based on the color, gender, nationality or race of the applicant. Conversely, it is also fair to those who belong to the majority. Affirmative action creates more equal opportunities for minorities by amendment of discrimination and promoting inclusion, and it does not unfairly burden majorities. It is a very effective and important tool in creating equality in our society. Recently, a stay-at-home mother was denied an employment opportunity simply because she is white. As everyone knows, white people are seen as the majority in most cases in the United States. She had applied for a government job for citizenship and immigration, but the office was seeking to hire only aboriginal applicants. According to Lilley, the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, “was very concerned to read the report of a position only being open to people from an identifiable group,” he said. “All positions should be on the basis of equality of opportunity and merit.” (2010, para 5). That may have been Mr. Kenney’s stance, but clearly someone with hiring authority in this particular office disagrees. This is an example of the system working for the majority. As I see the system, it is an equalizer, not something created to provide a degree of favoritism to one group over another. Why would anyone want to do away with a policy that maintains equality? I personally think it would be the kind of people that don’t fully understand or are not knowledgeable of the purpose of such a system.
Another reason to support affirmative action is that it does not heavily favor one gender over another. In an ideal world the only thing that we should be considering is a person’s ability to do the job. Affirmative action does not require a company to hire a less qualified applicant based on the fact they are male or female, regardless of skin color. If a woman has better skills than a male, then I believe she should be the one who receives the job in question. In another recent case, the large company of Wal-Mart was ordered to pay more than $11.7 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity commission (EEOC). One of company’s stores was primarily hiring male workers to work in its warehouses. The company was not hiring females who were just as capable of doing the same work as the men being hired. Stempel reported, “According to the EEOC, employment officials hired mainly 18- to 25 year old men because they believed order-filling positions were not suitable for women. The lawsuit began in August 2001.” (2010, para. 3). What recourse would the women in this case have had if it were not for affirmative action? By the ruling, I think the case clearly shows the women were discriminated against by the Wal-Mart supervisors. If we didn’t have current laws in place to handle this type of injustice towards women, the Wal-Mart store in question would continue to hire only male employees for warehouse jobs. Affirmative action was instrumental in balancing the bar in this case.
Affirmative action may have been originally designed to give qualified minorities a chance to compete on equal footing with whites, but in today’s society it’s used to provide employment opportunities for those that are considered a minority against majority groups other than white. Equal opportunity for certain minority groups continues to be a struggle in certain jobs. Educating employers and supervisors on the purpose of affirmative action would go a long way in correcting these issues and ensuring the right people are hired for the right reasons. I only discussed a few cases in this paper, but they are recent and not from the 1960’s. We definitely still need affirmative action to overcome the disparities of employment that exists in these job markets today and in the future.
- Bennett-Alexander, D. & Hartman, L. (2009) Employment law for business. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
- Kelley, R. (2010, February 10). Why we still need affirmative action. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com
- Lilley, B. (2010). Minister vows look at hiring rules. The Toronto Sun. p36. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic
- Stempel, J. (2010, March 3). Wal-Mart to pay $11.7 million to settle u.s. gender bias lawsuit. Insurance Journal. Retrieved from http://insurancejournal.com