10 Reasons the U.S. still Needs Affirmative Action
Affirmative action dates back to the 1960s when President Kennedy signed an executive order requiring all those who contracted with the US Government to take steps to make sure that all employees (and those seeking employment with the contractor) be treated without discrimination due to race, creed, color or national origin. The requirements were later amended to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sex.
Despite many protestations to the contrary, America is still a class, gender and race based society where it is easier to get ahead if you are white, male and middle class. In a country where your name matters (studies have shown that people with ‘black’ names find it harder to get a job interview than those with ‘white’ names) and where women are still in the minority in the senior ranks of the professions, affirmative action is sadly still a necessity.
Affirmative action is, perhaps, most controversial when it comes to the question of quotas. Whether in employment or access to college why should someone with a higher score be overlooked in favor of someone who has not done quite as well? At first glance it does seem unfair but what affirmative action has done is level the playing field. It makes sure that people who have potential but whose life circumstances have meant they have been unable to realize it still have access to all the opportunities they deserve.
So, here are our top 10 reasons why affirmative action is as relevant and necessary today as it was when it was first proposed in 1961.
10. Affirmative action helps make sure that the diversity of the American society is reflected across the board
America as a nation is growing ever more diverse. Non-Hispanic whites are projected to be in the minority of the US population by 2050. Minority groups are more fertile with white births accounting for only just over 8% of American population growth from 2000-10. Allied to this change is the fact that interracial marriages have become more common with 29% of whites who have a family member married to someone of a different race. These changes mean that there will inevitably be more mixed race and minority children.
These children will grow up to be the adults who drive the social and economic productivity of the United States. If we limit the very best of opportunities in education we will have a limited pool of intelligent and able white middle class students to become our doctors, engineers, bankers, entrepreneurs and military leaders. It would seem far better to enable affirmative action now so that the US has a wide range of candidates with the potential to excel in these positions when the time comes.
While affirmative action will have the benefit of ensuring that there is a diverse range of candidates to fill the necessary future positions of influence it will also ensure that these positions are filled with people who understand the complex needs of a culturally diverse society. People who have struggled to be accepted will be best placed to eliminate the cultural and societal barriers that they had to overcome. Once that happens and our diverse population is truly able to access all opportunities affirmative action will have fulfilled its goal and will no longer be needed.
9. Affirmative action will be needed as long as there is an education gap
America is becoming an increasingly educated country. At the time of the Second World War less than 5% of Americans had a college degree, now almost 30% do. This is a fantastic increase, not only for the individuals concerned who already reap the benefits of higher pay and better employment opportunities but also for the nation – we all benefit from being better educated. These increased rates of education are not reflected across society, however. While almost 30% of Americans have a college degree only 17% of black Americans and 13% of Hispanic Americans have the same level of education.
This gap in educational attainment has negative impacts on society and the quality of the US workforce. It also, sadly, becomes self-perpetuating as minority families start to believe that higher education is not a suitable aspiration for their children. Affirmative action is the only way to eliminate that gap and ensure that Americans of all races have the ability to achieve their maximum potential.
8. Affirmative action helps make sure that people are qualified for the work they need to do
As the previous two points made clear American society is becoming ever more diverse and by 2050 more than 50% of the population will be non-white.
Over recent decades America has reaped the benefits of having a more educated workforce. The more educated the general population the more competitive the national economy. This leads to, in general, increased wages and therefore an increase in tax revenue. It also promotes better health and an increase in educational aspiration for younger generations. At the same time the number of people doing drugs or in jail decreases and families tend to be less reliant on social security. Education benefits everyone!
If, however, the education gap is allowed to continue to exist the inequalities in opportunities available to those people from minorities will only increase. The concomitant effect will be that there will not be enough people from the privileged classes with the aptitude to complete the education necessary to fill those positions for which a college degree is a requirement. It is therefore in the interests of our society at large to promote affirmative action to ensure that enough members of our society have the level of education we need them to have to continue to allow America to prosper and be competitive on the world stage.
7. Diversity gives rise to innovation
When Forbes Insights undertook a survey on diversity in business 85% of all respondents agreed that diversity in the workforce is a key driver of innovation in business because it brings a range of skills and perspectives to the table that interact in a way that promotes alternative thinking which leads to fresh ideas. The most successful enterprises believe that it is necessary to build in diversity from the ground up. In companies where everyone approaches a problem from the same cultural and intellectual standpoint it can be harder for the team to come up with truly unique and effective solutions. Analysis of companies that actively promote diversity shows that they benefit from increased freedom of thought within their teams coupled with and assisted by a greater cross-pollination of ideas and an improvement in corporate cultural intelligence. This only works, however, if the organization in question creates a working environment where new ideas are nurtured and workers are encouraged to discuss them openly.
Research in Denmark looked for correlations between the diversity of firms and their patent activity. They found that firms with a diverse workforce were more likely to apply for patents and worked in a broader range of fields.
Affirmative action ensures that there are enough people from minorities with the qualifications to enable them to make a meaningful contribution to these companies and drive the success of their employers and the American economy.
6. Diversity makes good financial sense
Simply put companies that look like their consumer base do better. As America changes companies need to change too.
When the Supreme Court considered the question of affirmative action in Grutter v Bollinger more than 60 Fortune 500 companies wrote to the Court in Support of affirmative action. They said “It is essential that they [students] be educated in an environment where they are exposed to diverse people, ideas, perspectives… the increasing diversity in the American population demands the cross-cultural experience and understanding gained from such an education.’
This statement reflects the common knowledge that diversity is good for the bottom line. Generally speaking the more diverse a company is the more profitable it is likely to be. A review of the Standard and Poors 500 showed that companies that put diversity and equal employment high on their agenda and performed well in regard to employment opportunities for women and minorities had a stock market performance 2.5 times better than those of the ones who did not see the promotion of diversity as a priority. Even more starkly, a 2012 report showed that there was a 95% higher return on equity for public companies with a diverse executive board when compared to those without.
Increasing diversity has also been shown to make it easier to recruit ‘top talent’ and encourages successful employees to stay with the company leading to a loyal, productive and innovative workforce. Companies with a diverse workforce and a diverse supply chain are better able to reflect their consumer demographic and create and market products that are appropriate to a more diverse society.