Sunday, February 14, 2010


It is very easy to note that diversity exists, and most people recognize that there are differences between themselves and others. However, acceptance of diversity is another matter when the rights of an individual are affected because of such differences. The debate about differences and how they should be handled in employment situations has led to various effects. To assist in identifying the issues involved in workplace diversity, it is critical that terminology often used generally and incorrectly be clarified.
To review, diversity management is concerned with developing organizational initiatives that value all people equally, regardless of their differences. In managing diversity, efforts are made by both the organization and the individuals in it to adapt to and accept the importance of diversity.
As the figure shows, organizations can also address diversity issues in more restricted ways: equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. These levels are discussed next.
Equal Employment Opportunity
Equal employment opportunity (EEO) is a broad concept holding that individuals should have equal treatment in all employment-related actions. Individuals who are covered under equal employment laws are protected from illegal discrimination, which occurs when individuals having a common characteristic are discriminated against based on that characteristic. Various laws have been passed to protect individuals who share certain characteristics, such as race, age, or gender. Those having the designated characteristics are referred to as a protected class or as members of a protected group. A protected class is composed of individuals who fall within a group identified for protection under equal employment laws and regulations. Many of the protected classes historically have been subjected to illegal discrimination. The following bases for protection have been identified by various federal laws:
-Race, ethnic origin, color (African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans)
-Gender (women, including those who are pregnant)
-Age (individuals over 40)
-Individuals with disabilities (physical or mental)
-Military experience (Vietnam-era veterans)
-Religion (special beliefs and practices)
For instance, suppose a firm that is attempting to comply with EEO regulations has relatively few Hispanic managers. To increase the number of Hispanics, the firm will take steps to recruit and interview Hispanics who meet the minimum qualifications for the management jobs. Notice that what the firm is providing
is equal employment opportunity for qualified individuals to be considered for employment. To remedy areas in which it appears that individuals in protected classes have not had equal employment opportunities, some employers have developed affirmative action policies.
Affirmative Action
Affirmative action occurs when employers identify problem areas, set goals, and take positive steps to guarantee equal employment opportunities for people in a protected class. Affirmative action focuses on hiring, training, and promoting of protected-class members where they are underrepresented in an organization in relation to their availability in the labor markets from which recruiting occurs. Sometimes employers have instituted affirmative action voluntarily, but many times employers have been required to do so because they are government contractors having over 50 employees and over $50,000 in government contracts annually.
When equal employment opportunity regulations are discussed, probably the most volatile issues concern the view that affirmative action leads to quotas, preferential selection, and reverse discrimination. At the heart of the conflict is the employers’ role in selecting, training, and promoting protected-class members when they are underrepresented in various jobs in an organization. Those who are not members of any protected class have claimed that there is discrimination in reverse. This reverse discrimination may exist when a person is denied an opportunity because of preferences given to a member of a protected class who may be less qualified.
Specifically, some critics charge that white males are at a disadvantage today, even though they traditionally have held many of the better jobs. These critics say that white males are having to “pay for the sins of their fathers.”
It has been stated by some that the use of affirmative action to remedy underrepresentation of protected-class members is really a form of quotas, or “hiring by the numbers.” However, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 specifically prohibits the use of quotas. It also sets limits on when affirmative action plans can be challenged by individuals who are not members of a protected class. Some phrases used to convey that affirmative action goals are not quotas include “relative numbers,” “appropriately represented,” “representative sample,” and “balanced workforce.”
Along with the economic restructuring of many organizations has come a growing backlash against affirmative action.14 As noted, some see it as an unfair quota system rather than sound HR management. Proponents of affirmative action maintain that it is a proactive way for employers to ensure that protectedclass members have equal opportunity in all aspects of employment, and that it is indeed sound management. The accompanying HR Perspective provides both viewpoints.
Increasingly, court decisions and legislative efforts have focused on restricting the use of affirmative action. California’s Civil Rights Initiative stipulated that the State of California: Shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
More evidence comes from a federal court decision regarding admission standards at the University of Texas Law School. The university used separate admissions committees to evaluate minority and nonminority applicants. The suit was brought by Cheryl Hopwood and three other students who were denied admission to the law school, even though they had test scores and grade point averages significantly higher than those of a majority of African Americans and Hispanic Americans who were admitted. Clarifying an earlier case, Bakke v. University of California, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hopwood v. State of Texas ruled.
The use of race in admissions for diversity in higher education contradicts, rather than furthers, the aims of equal protection. Diversity fosters, rather than minimizes, the use of race. It treats minorities as a group, rather than as individuals.
It may further remedial purposes, but just as likely, may promote improper racial stereotypes, thus fueling racial hostility. Finally, a federal court in Washington voided a government requirement that radio and television stations must seek minority job applicants. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had required stations to go out and find minority and female applicants, which resulted in the broadcasting companies granting special hiring preferences to minorities. The judge noted, “We do not think it matters whether a government hiring program imposes hard quotas, soft quotas, or goals. Any of these techniques induces an employer to hire with an eye toward
meeting the numerical target. As such they can and surely will result in individuals being granted a preference because of their race.”
That clear statement illustrates the idea that affirmative action as a concept is
under attack by courts and employers, as well as by males and nonminorities.
Whether that trend continues will depend on future changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court and the results of presidential and congressional elections. The authors of this text believe that whether one supports or opposes affirmative action, it is important to understand why its supporters believe that it is needed and why its opponents believe it should be discontinued. Because the “final” status of affirmative action has not been determined, we have presented the arguments on both sides of the debate without advocating one of the positions.

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