What is Affirmative Action?

About Affirmative Action

Affirmative action constitutes a good faith effort by employers to address past and/or present discrimination through a variety of specific, results-oriented procedures. This good faith effort may involve measures taken beyond equal opportunity laws that simply ban discriminatory practices.

  • Affirmative action is usually associated with employment practices, but it also applies to college admissions and the awarding of government contracts.
  • Federal, state and local governments, federal contractors, and subcontractors with contracts of $50,000 or more are required to implement affirmative action programs in employment. Colleges and universities are also included in this category.
  • In rare cases, a private employer may be ordered to remedy a specific practice or pattern of discrimination by implementing "remedial" affirmative action measures.

What are some types of affirmative action measures?

  • Aggressive recruiting to expand the pool of candidates for job openings.
  • Evaluating and updating selection tools and criteria to ensure their relevance to job performance.
  • Revising traditional measures of merit to more fully recognize talent and performance under varying conditions.

Executive Order 11246. For historical purposes, this is the original text of the law, without any subsequent amendments.

Myths and Facts

Myth: Affirmative Action is a set of laws that disadvantage whites and diminish their chances to obtain resources and opportunities

Fact: Affirmative Action is a term that has been applied to many public and private initiatives designed to address problems of discrimination or exclusion in employment, education, and contracting. The policies were instituted to transform the landscape of American social justice from an unequal playing field to an equal one. However, they are misguidedly perceived as a tool used to subjugate whites.

In truth, the policies merely constitute a "good faith effort" by employers to eliminate discrimination. These good faith efforts ensure that specific, results-orientated procedures are employed to balance competing interests and make certain efforts are put forth to provide equal access in educational and work arenas for all people. Affirmative action policies can be appropriately labeled as strategies in which the pool of candidates for positions, seats and contracts are sought through expansion of recruitment networks, review of qualifications to determine that they are necessary to perform the job, and so on.

Myth: Affirmative Action is reverse discrimination

Fact: In an analysis, the U.S. Department of Labor found that affirmative action programs do not lead to widespread reverse discrimination claims. It also found that a high proportion of claims that are filed are found to lack merit. These findings firmly refute the charge that affirmative action has helped minorities at the expense of whites. The analysis found that fewer than 200 out of 3,000 discrimination cases filed involved reverse discrimination, and in only six cases were such claims substantiated.

Myth: Affirmative Action equals quotas

Fact: This statement is dismissible as quotas are illegal. However, it cannot be ignored as the notion that affirmative action policies dictate the quantification of proportions is prevalent. The "quota" debate revolves around the idea that inflexible numbers of employment and college/university seats are set aside exclusively for minorities and women. There is also the misconception that unqualified minorities and women are securing these jobs and seats. The policies specifically state the conditions under which quotas can be used. There must be a finding of discrimination against an organization or institution by a court of law or an enforcement agency. In addition, only a qualified individual from the group discriminated against is allowed to fill the position. At that time, the situation is said to be remedied.

Myth: Affirmative Action is preferential treatment

Fact: Preferences for those in need is the American way; a basic concept. Affirmative action programs for minorities and women are a very small part of U.S. preferential policies. College draft deferments, selective allotments for refugees, support for corporate farms, re-entry programs for GI's, the Marshall Plan (billions of dollars for free training of former European enemies denied to Black GI's in the U.S.), legacy systems, and geographical preferences are but a few of the programs engineered in the name of inclusion and deemed worthy of preferential treatment.

It is important to remember what policies (politics) of the past have precipitated present policies. Problems persist and affirmative action is not their source.