Is Affirmative Action still Necessary with Increasing Globalization?

By Angie Smith

It would seem that as more and more people move to capitalistic countries, diversity is resolving itself in the need to attain diversity initiatives found within Affirmative Action Plans. One might even question the need for such harsh parameters in the world of equal employment opportunity. Many critics state that Affirmative Action only encourages racism in the workforce and even educational institutions. “I want to hire the most qualified person” screams the business owner, “not just another quota!” And, with this attitude, many have sought to try a neutral route, but found that it doesn’t work. In a very recent court case, June 2016, Fisher v. University of Texas (No. 14-981), the Supreme Court ruled Texas had constitutionally considered race to meet diversity objectives in student admissions. Months of study within this University concluded that the use of race-neutral policies had not been successful in achieving racial diversity. So, we learn that when employers are “of choice” diversity brings inclusion and this presents an onion that has many layers. A huge part of our ethical and global responsibilities as EEO officers within Human Resources is to educate our hiring managers and key stakeholders that healthy parameters are needed to help guide us all in understanding other cultures, values, and career goals. To understand the complexity of this issue, we should start from the beginning.

In the United States, Affirmative Action, or Executive Order 11246, was signed in 1965 to protect individuals with respect to race, color, religion, and national origin. Then, in 1967, sex was added. Disability was included in 1973, via Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Affirmative Action was the moral and social obligation to amend historical wrongs and eliminate past discrimination. We simply needed a standard to compare our hiring efforts to. And, federal contractors are required to develop and maintain them, as a condition of doing business with the government. So, diversity initiatives were established as goals designed to measure acceptance of minorities by embracing cultural differences in the workplace. And, other countries have them too. South Africa has the Employment Equity Act of 1998, which covers black people, women, and disabled persons. Malaysia adopted New Economic Policy in 1971, and was succeeded by NDP in 1991. Brazil has the Law of Social Quotas (2012) in universities. United Kingdom has the Equality Act of 2010, which requires equal treatment in private and public service employment. Age, disability, gender assignment, marriage, and civil partnerships, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation are the protected classes in the U.K. Therefore, we can see that each country has been working with tenacity to establish healthy parameters in regard to diversity and inclusion. But, are they working by yielding the fruit they were planted to yield?

Workplace discrimination risks have been stated to be on the rise, despite continuous advances in anti-discrimination legislation. It has been predicted that the downturn in the global economy would lead to jobs loss crisis, where many needed jobs will go unfilled. This will lead to social unrest ((ILO), 2011). In the ILO’s updated report of 2016, “World of Employment and Social Outlook,” the main finding is the concerning rate of rising poverty in developed countries. The discrimination trends predicted in the 2011 report has continued to a concerning and worsened economic, social, and employment global condition in the 2016 report. So, if discrimination continues to be on the rise, why do Affirmative Action-like policies even matter? We must continue to question the methods of our measures as globalization affects economic, social, political, and employment factors.

What is globalization? Increased technology erodes physical barriers in working, enabling people to work from any location in the world. Globalization has made an individual’s physical presence in the office less important. So, as people increase in contact, the potential for discrimination of all types also increases. America is a melting pot and we are based on immigration, coming from a rich history of discrimination. And, you might ask how current globalization is different compared to the migration that our ancestors have experienced. Current globalization is signified by the increased migration of people from the rich countries of the capitalist center to the poorer countries and territories of the peripheral world (Weisskopf, 2010). As these economic conditions prevail, the potential for persistent discrimination and equality will continue to challenge employers. We still need a standard to guide us through these changes. Affirmative Action-like policies are needed.

Therefore, Affirmative Action should be taught not as a compliance “bolt on” but an enabler to diversity work, exhibiting opportunity to examine pools. This examination will impact and reflect the communities that we serve (Dominguez & Sotherlund, 2010). As our applicant pools continue to grow by leaps and bounds due to globalization, we have to continue to build business cases that show economic advantages of diversity initiatives. Not just corporate sustainability and “good values,” but good business. Candidates who are ready to work today are consumers who are ready to buy tomorrow (Labor, 1999).

To date, the Title VII protected classes are race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), and national origin.  The EEOC also protects discriminatory practices involving age (40 or older), disability, and genetic information. We can expect more classes to be added in the future, which will ultimately affect our Affirmative Action plans. In the next century, any given country will be many faces and many races with no one majority group in the workforce. We must continue to tweak our EEO statements, which give rise to Affirmative Action guidelines. As change advocates in Human Resources, we have a responsibility to inspire leadership of ourselves and others by educating our business leaders of the economic value of enforcing and expanding these policies. It has been stated that “great leadership is about human experiences, not processes”(Secretan). Hence, our value will be amplified through guiding others to see the many perspectives of the ever-evolving diverse environments of which we work, play, and live.

Angie Smith, SHRM-SCP, PHR Health Center Resources & Program Manager City of Huntsville

Angie Smith, SHRM-SCP, PHR
Health Center Resources & Program Manager
City of Huntsville