Analysis of Affirmative Action: Sociological Perspective Essay

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Today’s society is becoming increasingly aware of the elements of “diversity” and “equity” and to ensure their implementation, the government as well as employers are dependent on affirmative action legislature. These policies are set by the government to provide a platform for the minorities in the community, who are discriminated against in almost all aspects of their daily lives. In one sense these affirmative action laws are a blessing for the people who fall prey to victimization based on their sex, race, sexual orientation, or the fact that they suffer from disabilities. At the same time, affirmative action can be discriminatory towards the general population and hinder them from advancing in their professional lives, even when they deserve it and are completely qualified for it.

Diversity and Equity are two important aspects that have come into play in the recent professional landscape. Earlier, funding of research was solely based upon two factors: the research record of the applicant and the quality of their proposed research. The word ‘equity’ is being thrown about to provide underprivileged professionals with a chance to climb the corporate ladder, even if the person who already holds that position is better qualified and more suitable for it than them. In an attempt to aid in “social justice”, qualified scientists are being asked to put a hold on their respective career growth so that their colleagues who are considered minorities, can also try to advance in the field and research.

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“There are many ways in which the government and its subsidiaries try to cope with the growing demand to provide for diversity and equity in the workplace and also in the community: Affirmative action describes policies that support members of a disadvantaged group that has previously suffered ​discrimination i​n areas such as education, employment, or housing” (Affirmative action, 2020).​ “​It includes expanded outreach, recruitment, mentoring, training, management development and other programs designed to help employers hire, retain and advance qualified workers from diverse backgrounds​” ​(​Affirmative Action and People with Disabilities • Disabled Person, n.d​.).​ ​Such policies are crucial for these people as there are a huge number of obstacles that they have to face. These obstacles may be permanent and life-long such as ethnicity, or they may be subject to change, such as age.

For diversity to truly establish itself, we must take into consideration the various groups and communities whose influence has been curbed by socioeconomic factors. By far the community that has been a target of discrimination is the female community. Discrimination based on sex has been around for a very long time and now has reached a critical point where it cannot be tolerated anymore. “​Compared with those in non-STEM jobs, women in STEM are more likely to say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace (50% vs. 41%)” (Funk & Parker, 2018). Women in STEM jobs are facing problems like being underpaid when compared to their male counterparts for the same amount of work, and also fall prey to sexism and other social evils through no fault of their own. Women who are more deserving and experienced than, for example, another male colleague get denied the opportunity to advance in their careers solely based on their gender. Various movements and protests have highlighted the fact that women are to be acknowledged as equals and should be provided the same opportunities as men, may it be at the workplace or otherwise.

Another group that has suffered discrimination on a large scale is the people with disabilities. “This includes ​blindness or visual impairment; hearing impairment; orthopedic or mobility impairment; speech or language impairment; learning, mental, emotional, or psychiatric condition, or other health impairment or problem.” (​Peterson, J., & National Post 2019, November 22).​ According to the Canadian Survey on Disability Reports, one in five Canadians aged 15 years and over has a disability. A person suffering from any kind of disability is at a very clear disadvantage when compared to an average person in terms of academic or professional success. The fact that they have to go through the additional burden of discrimination alongside dealing with their disability and still compete with others for positions in the workplace or to be treated fairly as a member of the community is very inspiring and motivating, but it is a very difficult environment to grow in. People, for example, with learning disabilities are required to work much harder and longer than their peers in order to succeed. The constant discrimination by society and disregard shown towards them ends up holding them back from reaching their full potential.

Due to the rise of communities such as LGBTQ, the sexual orientation of a person has been a device of much scrutiny in society, even though some of them are welcoming towards it, many are skeptical and sometimes try to ostracize the person. This leads to discrimination of a different kind: against sexual minorities. In essence, sexual minorities constitute people who do not classify themselves as heterosexuals. “​In Canada, 1.7% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 59 are gay or lesbian, and an additional 1.3% are bisexual.” ​(“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Workplace Issues,” n.d.).​ In the past, if a person came out as a sexual minority, they would not be allowed to be a part of the community and would be heavily discriminated against but this practice is still quite prevalent in the modern workplace. A person’s sexual orientation has been known to have come in the way of employment and promotions, sometimes even leading them to be fired.​ “​Studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace.

Moreover, a staggering 90 percent of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job.” ​(Burns & Krehely, 2011).​ All these reasons make the workplace a very uncomfortable and suffocating place for sexual minorities to work in. Even though their contributions to the company are comparable to the other people there, discrimination is omnipresent and stands in the way of their professional goals.

Affirmative action can address the problems faced by these individual groups to ensure that each individual is given the fairest possible treatment and isn’t made to feel outcast and detached. There have been many movements and protests to favor female inclusion in the workspace, especially in STEM jobs as that is where discrimination is at its peak. “In 2018, Canadian women 15 years and older represented nearly half (47.7%) of the labor force, compared to 37.1% in 1976—a percentage increase of close to 30%.” ​(“Women in the Workforce - Canada,” n.d.).​ Such increases were brought about in the workforce as the direct implication of the affirmative action policies put forth by the government as a way to bring about “diversity” in the community. This women-inclusion initiative ultimately opens the doors for women to hold executive positions, which they were initially denied, regardless of their qualifications.

Secondly, “employers must ​make reasonable accommodations to the known functional limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities.” ​(Affirmative Action and People with Disabilities • Disabled Person, n.d.).​ Steps are also being taken to have regulations in place to prevent harassment in the workplace of people with disabilities.

The topic of sexual orientation is a sensitive one and Affirmative Action laws are in place to ensure that sexual minorities are provided with the same opportunities as the other employees in terms of salary, promotions, and incentives. Employers must also play a part to create a non-hostile working environment in which people who are sexual minorities can be treated judiciously.

Affirmative action laws have also acted as benchmarks when it comes to improving the workspace through inclusion with recruitment ​and promotions of diverse candidates through senior management and into executive ranks. “As far as the high-profile engineering jobs are concerned, they have been majorly predominated by males and most women who are in this field end up leaving as a result” (Silbey, 2016). If “diversity” and “equity” must be brought about in the community, the recruitment process must be transparent and unbiased. Employers must not discriminate between candidates, even if they might be of a different sex, be differently-abled or belong to sexual minorities. Affirmative action gives them the right to be provided equal opportunities and consideration at every step. Even after being recruited, the employees are to be free from harassment and victimization. This enables them to do well at their job and in the course of time to be able to progress in their careers.

Affirmative action policies and laws are very beneficial for people who suffer from discrimination, but they are in contrast with the merit-based approach. It is valid to acknowledge the discrimination faced by the minorities in the community and the need for diversity and equity but not at the cost of robbing a very deserving candidate of a position that they have rightfully gained. In some cases, for the sake of providing everyone with equal opportunity, people have been elevated to positions that they are not qualified for and cannot handle effectively. In a way, affirmative action laws discriminate against the “majority” of the population. When we compare, without affirmative action policies, if a homosexual person was better qualified than a heterosexual person, competing for the same job, the latter would probably end up getting it; but in the other case, the affirmative policies in place might tip the scales in favor of the minority. This is not necessarily a good thing, if the person who identifies as a minority, is not qualified enough. It may seem that this solves the problem of not having enough diversity but it would lead to incompetence down the road and cause issues for both the employer and the community. College applications are good examples of the negative effects of affirmative action.

“​He said the school targeted certain groups in order to “break the cycle” and try to convince students to apply to Harvard who normally wouldn’t consider the school” (​Eustachewich, 2018, October 17). This extract by the dean of admissions at Harvard clearly showed that for the sake of “diversity” within the incoming class of students, leniency in the application decisions followed.

Through this essay, it can clearly be deduced that affirmative action, even though a good initiative to appease the Liberals, is not very beneficial when it comes to effectiveness in the profession of engineering and also in Canadian society. A community where the merit and qualification of a person are the only criteria that hold importance is a community that will thrive and succeed. Even though discrimination is a social evil that must be eradicated, the competence of a person must not be overshadowed by their age, sex, race, sexual orientation, or any other factor.

Works Cited

    1. Burns, C., & Krehely, J. (2016, April 1). Gay and Transgender People Face High Rates of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment. Retrieved from
    2. Cohen, M. (n.d.). employment equity. Retrieved January 11, 2020, from equity.pdf.
    3. Eustachewich, L. (2018, October 17). Harvard's gatekeeper reveals SAT cutoff scores based on race. Retrieved from
    4. Funk, C., & Parker, K. (2019, December 31). Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity. Retrieved from
    5. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Workplace Issues: Quick Take. (2019, June 17). Retrieved from
    6. Peterson, J., & National Post. (2019, November 22). Jordan Peterson: Why the Western emphasis on individuals is the ultimate in intersectionality. Retrieved from
    7. Women in the Workforce - Canada: Quick Take. (2019, June 17). Retrieved from
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