What should companies do about Affirmative Action plans?

11 Sep

Affirmative action plans can help companies address racial and gender disparities in the workplace.

In a variety of industries, human resources managers are responsible for developing a management tool to ensure they're meeting requirements for Affirmative Action plans. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Human Resources website, the main reason that an employer establishes an affirmative action plan is to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender, race and ethnicity in the workplace. Business owners often achieve this goal by using human resources solutions that allow them to run a detailed analysis of the talent pool and existing workforce to see if there's any discrepancy in proportions, which may reflect discriminatory hiring practices. 

Affirmative Action plans are comprised of detailed policies, practices and procedures that companies establish ahead of recruitment processes. In essence, these strategies are designed to give all applicants an equal opportunity to access employment, as well as provide uniform payment regardless of race and gender.

However, there are those who would argue the U.S. has entered a post-racial era in which bias and prejudice don't play as much of a role in workplace decisions as in previous decades.

Are they still needed?
Much has changed since the concept of affirmative action first entered the national lexicon. The Heritage Foundation wrote that former President John F. Kennedy was the first to use the phrase in 1961 as he explained the reach Executive Order 10925 would have on the American workforce. The idea bled into the threads of the civil rights movements during the early '60s, culminating with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This piece of legislation made discriminatory practices in the workplace illegal.

As of 2011, African American employees made up roughly 11.6 percent of the total labor force, which includes individuals employed or seeking work, the U.S. Department of Labor wrote. This figure reflects a gradual increase in representation of African Americans in the U.S. workforce, up from 10.9 percent in 1991.

On the other hand, unemployment rates among African Americans is significantly higher compared to their white counterparts. Respectively, the difference was 15.8 percent and 7.9 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Hispanic Americans hovered in the middle with an 11.5 percent jobless rate.

At the same time, the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a member of the police department called attention to the realities in many workplaces. The Ferguson Police Department is comprised of mainly white officers, while the town has a large African American community. According to HR Unlimited Inc., the police department is 0.6 percent African American, which signals a need for affirmative action planning. However, the Ferguson case isn't necessarily reflective of all workplaces, and each employer must look at diversity statistics to get a fuller understanding of whether an affirmative action plan is required.

Are they effective?
Using the example of police departments, HR Unlimited Inc. cited the fact that organizations with affirmative action plans have been able to foster more representative payrolls. Between 1983 and 1992, those with a plan in place see minority officers composing upwards of 20 percent of officers in local departments.

In addition, Forbes highlighted the fact that the gender pay gap is beginning to shrink. Citing a PayScale study, there's less than a 2 percent disparity in pay among male and female millennial workers, which is one of the largest generations to enter the labor market. Both men and women exhibit a lack of enthusiasm for how much they're getting paid, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. Just 24 percent of women and 32 percent of men are satisfied by their paychecks, leaving the majority of employees unhappy with their current remuneration.

Equal payment is just one aspect of affirmative action plans, but it can play a significant role in job satisfaction and the perception of fair treatment. When individuals performing the same work are compensated differently, staff may begin to question hiring practices, especially among people of different genders or ethnic backgrounds. Still, there's no guarantee an affirmative action plan will work as intended.

Can they have a negative impact on workers?
While affirmative action plans aim to level the playing field among applicants and employees, not everyone will look at them the same way. In fact, human resources news source theHRDIRECTOR explained employees who were viewed as beneficiaries of the action plans were stigmatized as less fit for the job. They can also be seen more as competition than as colleagues, resulting in lower performance scores on employee peer evaluations. What's more, other members of the workforce may believe a minority worker was hired solely on the basis of the company meeting a quota for diversity.

Any effective affirmative action plan must take stereotypes and stigmas into consideration when it's implemented. Human resources managers must take employee engagement seriously when new hires are brought on board as a result of an action plan. While businesses have made progress toward equal opportunity, disparities still exist that may raise the need for an affirmative action policy.

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