Established by presidential executive orders, and expanded over the years through state-led initiatives and even Supreme Court decisions, affirmative action was designed to level the playing field between different social groups based on gender, race, class, sexuality, and so on. It accomplishes this by requiring government agencies and contractors to interview and hire qualified candidates from a wide variety of social backgrounds. Affirmative action yields many positive advantages for a workplace such as increasing opportunity, diversity, creativity and productivity.
According to legal scholar Randall Kennedy, the primary purpose of affirmative action in the workplace is to ensure that different folks have the same opportunity for employment as anybody else. Specifically, Kennedy believes affirmative action enables women, minority applicants, senior citizens and people with special needs to get jobs for which they might not be considered. Significantly, Kennedy points out that affirmative action is best used during the interviewing process, with a human resources director putting together a large and diverse pool of applicants from all walks of life for any given job. For example, affirmative action might help a woman get an interview for a job she might not otherwise be considered for because of various cultural assumptions, such as plumber or police officer.
Affirmative action is intended to diversify the workplace. In this case, diversity refers not just to racial diversity, but also gender diversity, age diversity and a general diversity in experiences and lifestyles. Sociologist Barbara Reskin argues that such diversity increases the creativity and cooperation of a workplace, as employees must learn how to proactively work with different folk who have different attitudes and lifestyles or ethnic backgrounds. Reskin believes that when a workplace is not diverse, employees tend to grow complacent and comfortable, which can hurt their dedication to the job.
Historian Terry Anderson states that companies that commit themselves to building a diverse workforce have historically attracted high quality candidates from myriad social groups, specifically minority groups and women. Consequently, companies are able to pick and choose the best candidates from a much wider field of applicants than it could if it was only hiring young, single, heterosexual white men, for example. While there are no doubt plenty of qualified candidates from a pool of young, single, heterosexual white men, Anderson believes the pool of qualified candidates expands exponentially when a company looks to other social groups.
From a company’s position, affirmative action provides a big boost in terms of productivity. This is because employees are aware of the expanded pool of applicants ready to apply for their job. Additionally, according to Reskin, productivity increases alongside diversity because employees must get creative when working with co-workers from social groups with whom they have not worked before. This creativity in terms of interoffice communication bleeds over into creativity in terms of the execution of work.
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