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Affirmative Action (AA) has been around for more than 60 years and it has been demonstrated that there have been advancements in the employment of minorities and women associated with affirmative action. Therefore we might argue that, YES, affirmative action is taking place and we are seeing women and minorities make headway in the workforce. HOWEVER, it is unclear whether the contractor’s AA efforts are influencing these successes or if they are the result of changes in the workforce and society. The research and statistics suggest that minorities and women are advancing, but there are stark differences dependent upon the industry with certain minority groups and women gravitating to familiar jobs.

Before addressing whether these achievements have occurred due to actual hard work and dedicated efforts on the part of government contractors, let’s look at the history of affirmative action.

Historical Overview of Affirmative Action (AA)

August 13, 1953Executive Order 10479 was signed by President Eisenhower establishing the anti-discrimination Committee on Government Contracts. The E.O. required the businesses it covered to maintain and furnish documentation of hiring and employment practices upon request.

March 6, 1961Executive Order 10925 was signed by President Kennedy and required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” This was the first use of the word “affirmative action.”

September 24, 1965Executive Order 11246 was signed by President Johnson and established requirements for non-discriminatory practices in hiring and employment for government contractors and requires contractors to “take affirmative action” to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin.” In 1967, gender was added.

September 26, 1973 – The Rehabilitation Act was signed into law.

December 3, 1974 – The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act was signed into law.

The first study to comprehensively document the long-term impact of affirmative action in federal contracting in the U.S. employment landscape was published in 2012 by Fidan Ana Kurtulus and titled “Affirmative action and the occupational advancement of minorities and women during 1973 – 2000 1.” The study found that “that the share of minorities and women in high-paying skilled occupations grew more at federal contractors subjected to affirmative action obligations than at non-contracting firms during the three decades under study, but these advances took place primarily during the pre- and early Reagan years and during the decade following the Glass Ceiling Act of 1991.” According to the study the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action were Black and Native American women and men.

Another study sponsored by the OFCCP showed that between 1974 and 1980 federal contractors added Black and female officials and managers at twice the rate of non-contractors (Citizens’ Commission, 1984). 2

Since I started my career in the late ’70s in EEO and moved into the AA arena in the mid ’80s, I don’t know what led to above cited increases in the representation of minorities and women in the workplace. Did contractors make an aggressive attempt to comply with E.O. 11246 to do the right thing or to avoid OFCCP scrutiny? Were OFCCP’s enforcement efforts more diligent during the ’70s to drive the AA achievements? I have a hard time believing that the E.O. opened up contractors eyes to the fact that there were qualified minorities and females in the labor market that should be hired to correct past discrimination. But whatever the reason, the results confirmed the benefits of AA.

Current Day Affirmative Action

So now let’s jump in time 40 years to the current day. Affirmative Action is still alive and kicking, BUT is progress being made because of continued efforts by contractors?

The regulations imposed on government contractors require recruiting and outreach efforts to identify qualified minorities, women, veterans, and individuals with a disability for consideration for employment opportunities. Once employed, contractors are obligated to evaluate their workforce representation against the percent of qualified minority and female candidates in the labor market area in which they recruit. With the revised rules to Section 503 and VEVRAA, this obligation will also include placement and/or utilization goals for veterans and individuals with disabilities (IWDs).

I propose that all of the hard work and expense incurred by government contractors to conduct outreach has very little impact BY ITSELF on goal attainment or the internal representation of minorities, women, veterans or IWDs. So if my assumptions are true, what is driving the positive effects of AA? I believe that, in addition to the traditional outreach and recruitment, the current day success of AA is influenced by the following factors:

  • Labor market conditions
  • Industry and job market factors
  • Societal Changes

Case in Point

Recently, I was working on a report to OFCCP to support a Conciliation Agreement. My client was cited for lack of outreach for veterans and individuals with disabilities. For seven job vacancies, they [my client] reached out to four state employment delivery systems, two sources for IWDs, and five sources for veterans. They received three referrals from one of the state agencies and no other referrals; however, five of the seven placements were veterans. Did this happen by default? Delving deeper into the profiles of these candidates, we were able to determine that three of the veteran hires came from employee referrals and two came directly from the company website. Taking a closer look at the company, you can see the link between the candidates and the company mission – to provide support to various Navy commands. According to my client, they “hire veterans because (1) they are the only ones with the qualifications to do the job, (2) because most of the workforce in local labor market area are already vets, and (3) in the jobs offered, the candidate goes to sea and work shore-based with active duty – so it’s all about networking and the company’s reputation for the work we do with the Navy.” They employ a lot of veterans who, in turn, refer other veterans.

Labor Market Conditions

The following statistics indicate that there are more minorities and women in the labor market available for employment, but as indicated below, they don’t necessarily have the skill set needed for all occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics’ labor force trends from 1992 through 2022 projections 3:

  • The number of females is increasing whereas the number of males is decreasing.
  • Whites are decreasing and all other minority groups are increasing.
  • In 2012, women made up 46.9% of the workforce, and held roughly 50% of managerial, professional, and related positions.

Industry and Job Market Factors

What appears clear in the following statistics is that if your organization is in one of the industries that traditionally employ minorities or women, then your AA efforts will be easier to accomplish than other industries. This may sound basic, and it is, but the truth is that if minorities and women gravitate to the jobs in which you recruit, your likelihood of finding qualified diverse candidates should be fairly easy. Food for thought: Does this mean that AA is working or that we are steering minorities and women into these occupations? That is a topic for a future article!

Occupation and Industry Statistics 4

  • In 2010, Asians were more likely to be in management, professionals and related jobs.
  • About 4 in 10 employed Black and Hispanic men were in service jobs and sales and office jobs in 2010. Nearly one-half of employed Hispanic men were in two job groups—natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations.
  • Sixty-five percent of Hispanic women worked in service occupations and sales and office occupations.
  • Black men were more likely to work in transportation and utilities and public administration. Hispanic men were more heavily concentrated in construction.
  • A large share of women in all race and ethnicity groups worked in education and health services.

Societal Changes

The view of AA is changing in our society as indicated by the following results of two Gallup polls [2013]. 5 6

  • Even though Americans largely reject the idea of using race as a factor in college admissions they support AA programs in general with 58% of Americans favoring affirmative action programs for racial minorities.
  • Black Americans are significantly less likely now than they were 20 years ago to cite discrimination as the main reason Blacks on average have worse jobs, income, and housing than Whites.
  • Whites and Blacks over the past two decades have shifted toward the “something else” [instead of discrimination] explanation for Black-White differences in jobs, income, and housing.

The shift away from the perception of discrimination has opened up the prospect that all individuals deserve to be considered for opportunities based on their skill-set rather than their race and/or gender. Organizations recognize the benefit of employing people of different cultural backgrounds which bring different perspectives to their jobs.

In addition to a more open view on diversity, companies know that their visibility and reputation in today’s marketplace is critical for attracting applicants, customers, and investors. Positioning an organization as a preferred employer for hiring, developing and retaining minorities and women helps attract and retain key talent. Entering into relationships with minority/women-owned businesses, advertising or marketing with diversity organizations demonstrates an interest and commitment in diversity.

In the end, diversity is expanding but not by applying ONLY the traditional outreach methods prescribed by the OFCCP. The contractor’s legitimate efforts to meet the OFCCP requirements, in conjunction with advances in society and labor market participation, will increase minority and female representation in the workplace, whereas OFCCP requirements alone will not do it.

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3. [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published in the December 2013 Monthly Labor Review.]
4. [Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]
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