What is positive action?
Affirmative action is a policy in which the color, race, sex, religion or national origin of an individual are taken into account to increase the opportunities offered to an under-represented part of society. Businesses and government entities are implementing affirmative action programs to increase the number of people from certain groups in businesses, institutions and other sectors of society. The policy focuses on demographics that have historically been underrepresented in leadership positions, professional roles and academics. It is often seen as a way to combat historical discrimination against particular groups.
Key points to remember
- Affirmative action aims to reverse the historical trends of discrimination against an individual’s identity by providing assistance to groups identified as being discriminated against in the past or in the present.
- Affirmative action policies attempt to implement change by various means, such as the requirement to respect certain quotas when hiring, the granting of financial support in the form of grants and scholarships and the refusal government funding and contracts to institutions that do not meet the required criteria.
- Although initially designed to apply the Civil Rights Act of 1964, affirmative action has broadened its scope to target groups to include the representation of men and women, people with disabilities and covered veterans.
- Critics of affirmative action point to a number of perceived policy failures, including the cost of programs, the possibility of hiring less qualified candidates, and the lack of historic progress in changing the representation of target groups.
How affirmative action works
In the United States, affirmative action gained importance in the 1960s as a means of promoting equality of opportunity in various segments of society. This policy was developed to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which aimed to eliminate discrimination.
The first implementations of positive discrimination were mainly aimed at breaking the continuous social segregation of minorities from institutions and opportunities. Despite legislation prohibiting biased practices in the United States, a tangible change in the status quo was not immediate.
Positive action has been promulgated to provide under-represented groups with more precise representation of key roles in government, business and academic positions.
Requirements for positive action
Efforts to stimulate such change can take the form of assistance to increase the opportunities available to under-represented groups. This assistance may include grants, scholarships and other financial assistance to help these segments of the population gain access to higher education. Hiring practices can be structured to require the inclusion of various candidates for vacancies.
Government agencies may require businesses and institutions to populate their ranks with a minimum percentage of qualified professionals from different ethnicities, genders and cultures. Failure to comply with these requirements could prevent institutions from receiving public funds or being able to compete for public contracts.
In recent years, campaigns to make organizations and institutions more inclusive have seen pressure for greater gender diversity as well as greater access to opportunities for people with disabilities and veterans covered.
Advantages and disadvantages of positive action
The implementation and continued practice of affirmative action policies have attracted strong support as well as strong criticism. Advocates of affirmative action may say that the effort must continue because of the low percentages of diversity in positions of authority, representation in the media, and limited recognition of the achievements of underrepresented groups.
Opponents of affirmative action frequently call these efforts a collective failure. Tiny changes to the status quo after decades of effort are often cited as proof of this. Critics of affirmative action argue that such policies can hamper the prosperity of the groups they were supposed to help. The cost of these programs, combined with the belief that positive action compels the population to make unjustified accommodations, pushes a large part of the opposition. Furthermore, opponents of affirmative action could argue that at least, from their point of view, there is little or no bias in today’s society.
In addition, it has been argued that affirmative action has, in some cases, led to the neglect of qualified candidates for the recruitment of affirmative action standards, which has led to the hiring of less qualified candidates. There is also the trap that positive action leads to patronizing for those who benefit from positive action. In other words, some people may be accused of obtaining a job or promotion because of their ethnicity or gender, in relation to their qualifications. Positive action is a delicate balance between promoting a diverse workplace without resentment.