Examples of Affirmative Action in a Workplace

Affirmative action is meant to increase diversity in the workplace.
i George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Companies that want to be more diverse may try to achieve this goal by implementing an affirmative action program. Affirmative action refers to a range of different policies designed to either fix known problems with discrimination at the company or ensure that the company's current policies do not unintentionally discriminate.

Goals Not Quotas

    The most well-known and also the most controversial type of affirmative action program is the target system. For instance, if a company has a history of not promoting women to upper management, it may implement an affirmative action program to recruit and hire more women for top roles. To check how well it is doing achieving this goal, the company can set targets to aim for such as increasing the percentage of women hired for top jobs to 30 percent within five years, then 50 percent within 10 years. Courts have ruled that this type of program is legal as long as the targets are goals and not quotas. If the company chooses a qualified woman over a qualified man to help it meet its goal, that decision would be legal. It would be illegal to choose an unqualified woman solely to meet a fixed quota.

Recruiting for Diversity

    Another common type of affirmative action program is to change the way the company recruits new hires. For example, a company seeking to hire more women might send representatives to a job fair at an all-female college, or might send announcements of new job openings to a woman's organization. A company seeking to recruit more minority applicants would use a similar strategy to reach out to minority groups. Instead of just running a job ad and waiting to see who applies, the company actively advertises to women and minorities to let them know they are welcome to apply.

Removing Unfair Barriers

    Another common affirmative action program is to review the company's hiring and promotion policies for any unfair barriers to women or minorities. For instance, if the company tends to promote those who never take sick days or use vacation time or maternity leave, some women may be placed in a position where they must choose between family responsibilities and career goals. The company may have more success recruiting top female candidates by instituting a more flexible policy.

Mentoring for Diversity

    Mentoring is a common practice at many companies and can be a source of discrimination when senior employees only mentor junior employees of the same gender or racial background as themselves. Mentoring can also be used to promote diversity by pairing senior employees with junior employees of diverse backgrounds. The one standard that must be followed with any affirmative action program is flexibility. It is legal to consider gender as a factor for the purpose of promoting diversity. It is not legal to base decisions solely or primarily on gender.

the nest