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.
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.
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
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:
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
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.
2. [http://judiciary.house.gov/legacy/2100.htm ]↩
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]↩