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Affirmative Action Policy in American Society


Diversity is a characteristic feature of the modern workplace. Diversity as the focus on individual differences of employees is promoted by managers to increase productivity and the competitive advantage. Furthermore, the promotion of diversity in organizations is often connected with the adoption of such anti-discrimination measures as the affirmative action policy. The development of affirmative action principles became the result of the Civil Rights Movement and the manifestation of equal opportunities for all US citizens without taking into account their race or gender. The progress of the affirmative action policies was actively supported in employment and education during decades. However, the policy cannot be discussed as appropriate to be followed in the 21st century because the affirmative action is weak in supporting diversity, and other approaches are necessary to avoid reverse discrimination and skepticism directed toward the minority groups which use the advantages of the affirmative action.

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Diversity became discussed as a desirable characteristic of the workplace in the 1990s, but the shift to promoting diversity as the recognition of individual differences in the working environments was observed earlier, in the 1960s. Thus, the term “affirmative action” was first used by President Kennedy in 1961, and it was a start of the new era of declaring the principles of equal treatment for all racial and social groups in the spheres of employment and education (Arthur, 2012, p. 112; Carr-Ruffino, 2012). Affirmative action was closely associated with the idea of prohibiting discrimination and promoting diversity. As a result, today the affirmative action policies followed in many organizations and educational institutions are viewed as the result of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but there is no single opinion regarding the role of affirmative action for the promotion of diversity in the society. Even though affirmative action policies influenced the vision of diversity in US employment and education significantly, it is possible to advocate diversity in the workplace without supporting the principles of affirmative action because of its weaknesses and out-of-date character.

Affirmative Action Policy and Circumstances that Led to Its Development

Affirmative action policies can be discussed as specific principles formulated by the state and actively followed in organizations and educational institutions to support equal opportunity for all Americans. According to the affirmative action policies, equal opportunities should be guaranteed to representatives of the minority groups during the recruitment and application processes despite their race, culture, and gender (Dobbin, Kim, & Kalev, 2011, p. 387). To discuss the development of the policy and its features, it is important to state that President Kennedy signed the first affirmative action plan for government agencies in 1961 (Arthur, 2012, p. 112). This policy attracted public attention, and it became followed in the US organizations as a form of the practical application of antidiscrimination laws. It was important for the authorities to propose the policy that could be discussed as the response to the systematic discrimination observed in the American society during a long period (Herring & Henderson, 2012, p. 630). Thus, the affirmative action policy guaranteed that the targeted minority population could receive more chances to find a job or enter the college than it was previously.

Focusing on the circumstances that led to the development of the affirmative action policy, it is important to state that the policy previously signed in 1961 was amended in 1967, and this revision became the direct result of the Civil Rights Movement’s progress. In this context, the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was viewed as the proclamation of antidiscrimination ideals in the American society, where people were oriented to receiving equal opportunities while entering colleges or applying for jobs (Herring & Henderson, 2012, p. 631). Researchers studying affirmative action state that in this context, the development of the policy became the reaction of the state to people’s nationwide movements against the white privilege that was observed in all social spheres in the country in the 1950s-1960s (Herring & Henderson, 2012, p. 631; Patrick, 2010). Thus, the affirmative action policy became a kind of social reform to protect the rights of all US citizens, despite their skin color.

Connections between Past and Present Diversity Work and Progression

Recently, the opposition to discrimination and the promotion of diversity are not discussed as synonyms in the context of applied affirmative action policies. It is important to state that the past vision of diversity and the present vision of diversity in the workplace differ significantly. About two decades ago, the promotion of diversity at work was closely associated with the direct implementation of affirmative action strategies (Arthur, 2012; Carr-Ruffino, 2012). As a result, managers focused on targeted recruitment to make their organizations more diverse (Harvey & Allard, 2015). The affirmative action policies allowed the provision of quotas to the representatives of minority groups and managers could demonstrate evident preferences to hiring the African Americans instead of white candidates to follow policies rather than to promote equal opportunities (Herring & Henderson, 2012, p. 632). Therefore, past diversity at the workplace can be associated with the focus of employers on following affirmative action plans and goals that led to some type of reverse discrimination.

The present vision of diversity in the workplace can be discussed as different because employers and managers are inclined to promote diversity to create a positive atmosphere and increase competitiveness rather than to follow the policy without recognizing its social impact. Therefore, it is possible to speak about the steady progression regarding the development of the diversity vision in all business spheres. Today, much attention is paid not to preferential hiring, but to providing equal opportunities for all hired employees (Patrick, 2010, p. 68). Moreover, diversity in the workplace is viewed as not the response to social discrimination, but as the reflection of the typical social situation because the American society is highly diverse in its nature, and this characteristic feature needs to be observed with references to the business environment (Carr-Ruffino, 2012). From this point, according to Arthur, “diversity-driven work environments go beyond affirmative action by nurturing individuality and making changes to suit the needs of employees without sacrificing business goals” (Arthur, 2012, p. 110). Thus, the obvious progression in the vision of diversity in the workplace environment is observed today, and it directly depends on changes in attitudes toward affirmative action policies.

Relationship between Diversity Advocacy and Support for Affirmative Action Policies

Modern affirmative action policies cannot be discussed as good legal grounding for promoting equal opportunities for employees in American organizations. The main reason is that the affirmative action policies are outdated, and they are often followed by employers without focusing on equal opportunities for minority groups, but with the focus on the possible financial support from the state (Dobbin et al., 2011, p. 387). Moreover, it is possible to advocate diversity in the workplace and different types of organizations without supporting the principles of the affirmative action because the managerial approach to implementing the policy often leads to the reverse discrimination (Dobbin et al., 2011, p. 388; Harvey & Allard, 2015). During many years, the dominance of white people in employment and education was discussed as a sign of discrimination, and the problem was addressed by providing the quotas for the minorities according to the affirmative action policies. However, positive effects were not obvious because the desired equality was not achieved (Herring & Henderson, 2012, p. 633). Also, representatives of minority groups often face an increased level of prejudice toward them because of the benefits received as a result of the affirmative action plans.

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From this point, positive effects associated with the affirmative action on the diversity in workplaces are rather subtle, and the whole policy needs improvement. However, the opponents of the policy state that it is reasonable even to eliminate affirmative action because the contribution of the policy to promoting diversity in the workplace is rather indirect (Dobbin et al., 2011, p. 388; Harvey & Allard, 2015). Modern management strategies often discuss diversity as an advantage, and it is represented in the workplace without focusing on such policies as affirmative action (Harvey & Allard, 2015). If employers are not forced to hire only the target group members, they can pay more attention to creating an effective working environment for representatives of different races and cultures, and they can add more to developing the diversity ideals in the society. Moreover, eliminating ineffective affirmative action policies, it is possible to prevent skepticism associated with hiring only the target group members (Herring & Henderson, 2012, p. 630). As an alternative to focusing on the affirmative action policies, it is possible to implement diversity programs in organizations to contribute to creating the unique environment in each company, without causing the reverse discrimination.


The development of affirmative action policies in the 1960s was an important stage in the social movement against different forms of discrimination in American society. The positive effects of the policies’ adoption were the active involvement of minority groups in the economic relations in the United States and the decrease of the social tension toward different racial groups. However, it is impossible to state that the affirmative action policies contributed to diversity in work because other issues associated with the provision of equal opportunities for all citizens were revealed as a result of the affirmative action adoption in the 1960s. Therefore, today many researchers claim that diversity in organizations can be promoted without focusing on the outdated ideals of affirmative action. As a consequence, modern advocates for diversity often do not support the affirmative action approach and argue for its elimination to provide employers with more freedom in developing effective management strategies to support the diverse workforce.


Arthur, D. (2012). Recruiting, interviewing, selecting and orienting new employees. New York, NY: AMACOM.

Carr-Ruffino, N. (2012). Managing diversity (9th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Pearson Learning Solutions.

Dobbin, F., Kim, S., & Kalev, A. (2011). You can’t always get what you need: Organizational determinants of diversity programs. American Sociological Review, 76(3), 386-411.

Harvey, C. P., & Allard, M. J. (2015). Understanding and managing diversity: Readings, cases and exercises (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Herring, C., & Henderson, L. (2012). From affirmative action to diversity: Toward a critical diversity perspective. Critical Sociology, 38(5), 629-643.

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Patrick, H. (2010). Organization culture and its impact on diversity openness in the information technology organizational context. Dimensions, 1(1), 6772.

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