One of the official government-sanctioned ways that we begin to alter
the structures of power in organizations is by Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action may be done by gender or race, by ability, by sexual orientation, by any
qualification which a government or corporation determines merits it (but
rarely do we see it done by class). The
point of Affirmative Action is to attempt to give an advantage in hiring
to members of groups which were previously discriminated against because
of their membership in those groups. In Canada, it is mandated for
certain categories of employers to be done by four categories: women,
visible minority, aboriginal, and disabled.
Affirmative Action is a specific plan of action. It does not just
mean hiring fairly. It means that a company agrees, and publicizes in
its advertisements for hiring, that it will commit to hiring someone in
one of these four categories over and above someone who is not in one of
these four categories if the two candidates are essentially otherwise
equally qualified. Affirmative Action does not mean hiring
with targets or quotas.
One of the most interesting
takes on Affirmative Action I experienced in a class for this
course in Fall 2012. During the presentation of final projects,
the group that talked about Affirmative Action provided a lively
discussion for us. In the course of this discussion, several
students had talked about how they don't like Affirmative Action,
even as a member of one of the four groups, because people may
think they got their job only because they were
Sultan Ridwan, a student in the class, argued that the
important thing about Affirmative Action is not so much what
happens today as what will happen in a changed future. Yes, those
in favoured groups may feel a little uncomfortable today, but in 5
or 10 years, new members of those groups will be hired into Units
with people like them, and in maybe 30 years, it will be so common
to find others "like us" that we won't need Affirmative Action.
I've taught this course for time measured in decades and I've
served as an Affirmative Action representative on many York hiring
committees, but I had never heard the argument for Affirmative
Action put so well.
There are three major points that must be recognized about
Affirmative Action seeks to right
previous wrongs in hiring
A white male
losing out in a competition for a middle management job to a black
female when they both have the same qualifications may indeed feel
hard done by, but he must remember that black females have for
centuries suffered from prejudicial hiring practices that
prevented any of them having much of any opportunity to be hired
for a managerial job, simply because they were black females.
Hiring under Affirmative Action to right previous wrongs is NOT
discrimination; it is the righting of previous wrongs. Many white
men counter this with the complaint that it was not THEY who
specifically denied black women jobs so why should they
particularly suffer, by being denied a job. The point here is that
any white male today has most likely benefited from a history of
preferential hiring, in perhaps the job his father was able to
obtain that enabled the son to attend a good school that was not
available to blacks, and it is this systemic discrimination that
Affirmative Action aims to rectify.
Affirmative Action NEVER requires an
employer to hire an unqualified person for any job; it rarely requires
an employer to hire a less qualified person and when it does the
difference is minimal. That myth about
the white man who now can't get a job because
even though he holds a Ph.D. in business they gave the job to an
unqualified black lesbian one-armed woman in a wheelchair with a
Hispanic surname who never finished high school, is just that - a myth.
Affirmative Action NEVER requires an employer to hire an unqualified
Affirmative Action programmes generally say that
if you have two candidates who are equally qualified, you must give
preference to the one who belongs to whatever particular group is being
singled out for attention.
In some cases where Affirmative Action is particularly
needed to rectify previous hiring practices, it may be mandated that
even if the black woman is slightly less qualified, you must hire her
over the white male. Such an instance would include something where, for
example, a white male had 4 years of experience and the black woman had
3, but all else was equal.
Characteristics of a candidate that are
not mentioned in the job posting are irrelevant in assessing
equality of qualification.
again the story of the white man and the black woman in the
wheelchair. Let's suppose the job they are applying for involves
telemarketing and requires a grade 10 education and a good
telephone voice. If the company doing the hiring has an
Affirmative Action programme for females and blacks, and both the
man and the woman have an acceptable voice, then the company would
be not only within its rights but within its legal obligations to
hire the black woman over the white man, even though the black
woman had only a high school education and the white man has a
Ph.D. The degree is not a requirement for the job, and cannot be
used to justify hiring the white male.
In the film The Chilly Climate, Glenda Simms, President of
the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, states,
|"When people say 'reverse
discrimination,' notice the emphasis. Reverse
Discrimination. They have very little against
discrimination, it is the reverse part, because they're
saying, "I don't want you to do unto me what I have done
unto you, because I know it hurts."
Men have held the power in corporations for so long, it is natural
for them to resent programmes such as Affirmative Action which, in
their minds, seem to just be "reverse discrimination." If you're
worried about affirmative action giving all the jobs to women and
minorities, just take a look at the inside page of each Monday's
Globe and Mail Business section. I used to track it regularly.
It shows a summary of all the announcements of promotions printed
in the previous week in the G&M and there are usually only 13% or
fewer women. A quarter century ago, the percentage of women in
middle management in North America was around 15%. Now it's around
45% which isn't bad. But the percentage of women who make it to
top management was 1% a quarter century ago, and now it's around
2%. Taking over the world through affirmative action? Not
yet. Not yet.
mid 1990's, a guest speaker in the Women and Business class, a
Vice President of the bank she worked for, told us of a study done by
the Royal Bank, hardly a bastion of radical feminism, that estimated
that if women were hired at the current rate into senior positions,
without Affirmative Action, it would take approximately 400 years to
establish equality between the sexes in senior management positions. There
is a need for Affirmative Action.
whether the place where you work has an Affirmative
Action hiring policy and report to the group on it. If you
do not work, or if your place of work does not have an
AA plan, find out about York's. How does an Affirmative
Action plan help managers?
Post your answer in the
Sheryl Sandberg's Book Lean In
Sheryl Sandbert's book Lean In help you further
understand the issue of affirmative action?
Post your answer in the