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What Is Affirmative Action?

What is Affirmative Action?

The term affirmative action refers to a policy aimed at increasing work and educational opportunities for underrepresented people in various areas of our society.

Positive discrimination focuses on demography with historically low representation in leadership, professional and academic roles. It is often seen as a means of combating discrimination against particular groups.

Affirmative action programs are usually implemented by companies and governments taking into account the race, gender, religion or national origin of individuals when hiring.

Key points to remember

  • Affirmative action seeks to reverse historical trends of discrimination against people with certain identities.
  • It provides financial assistance to groups that have been and continue to be victims of forms of discrimination.
  • Policies often set hiring quotas, award grants and scholarships, and may also deny government funding and contracts to institutions that do not follow policy guidelines.
  • Affirmative action now includes assistance for gender representation, persons with disabilities and veterans covered.
  • Criticism of affirmative action points to the program’s high costs, hiring fewer qualified candidates, and lack of historical progress in equal representation.

How Affirmative Action Works

The main objective of positive action is to diversify the different components of society. It is a government-backed policy that was developed to provide underrepresented groups of people with access to opportunities in academia, the private workforce, and government jobs.

These opportunities include admission to schools and jobs in professional positions, as well as access to housing and finance.

History and implementation

Affirmative action politics rose to prominence in the United States in the 1960s as a means of promoting equal opportunity for various segments of society. The policy has been developed to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964aimed at eliminating discrimination.

Early implementations of affirmative action largely focused on stopping the continued social segregation of minorities and other disadvantaged people from institutions and opportunities.

Despite legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices in the United States, tangible change in the status quo was not immediate.

In recent years, campaigns have expanded to make organizations and institutions even more inclusive by pushing for greater gender diversity. The new policies also aim to provide better access to opportunities for covered veterans and people with disabilities.

Covered veterans are veterans with disabilities, who have served on active duty in a war or other campaign and have a campaign badge or service medal, or who have recently left the armed forces.

Elements of Affirmative Action

Efforts to stimulate change can take the form of financial assistance such as subsidiesscholarships and other aid intended to facilitate access to higher education opportunities.

Additionally, hiring practices can be structured to require the inclusion of diverse candidates to be considered for job postings. Government agencies may require companies and institutions to fill their ranks with a minimum percentage of qualified professionals of different ethnicities, genders and cultures.

Failure to comply with these requirements could prevent institutions from receiving Government funding or be able to compete for government contracts.

People confuse employment equity with affirmative action. There is a clear difference between the two. Employment equity aims to ensure that all individuals are treated equally, while affirmative action actually supports specific people who have historically been denied opportunities.

Examples of Affirmative Action

Affirmative action has been implemented since the 1960s, despite the lack of progress at times and rulings by judicial authorities such as the Supreme Court that have hampered it. Here are some examples of the policy in action.

  • In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246. It required all government contractors and subcontractors to expand employment opportunities for minorities. He also created the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCC) to enforce the order.
  • In 1970, the Department of Labor ordered and authorized flexible targets and schedules to address the underutilization of minorities by federal contractors. In 1971, women were included in the order.
  • In 1973, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It required agencies to submit a positive action plan to the EEOC that detail the hiring, placement and advancement of people with disabilities.
  • In 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12432. It required every federal agency with substantial procurement or grant-making authority to develop a minority business development plan.
  • In 1990, President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. A year later, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
  • In 1998, the US House of Representatives and the US Senate halted attempts to eliminate specific affirmative action programs. Both houses of Congress have prohibited the abolition of the disadvantaged enterprise program. In addition, the House refused to authorize the elimination of affirmative action in admissions to higher education programs funded by the Higher Education Act.
  • In 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that dozens of major U.S. corporations, including Apple, Alphabet, American Airlines, and General Motors, were urging the Supreme Court to uphold the continued use of affirmative action policies in college admissions. university. They claimed that greater diversity on college campuses contributes to continued innovation in commerce and business success.

Advantages and disadvantages of affirmative action

The implementation and continued use of affirmative action policies has drawn strong support as well as strong criticism.


A clear benefit of affirmative action is the opportunities it provides to people who otherwise might not have them. These opportunities include access to education for students who may be disadvantaged and career advancement for employees who may be prevented from moving up the corporate ladder.

Advocates of affirmative action say the effort must continue because of low percentages of diversity in positions of authority and in the media, as well as limited recognition of the achievements of marginalized or unrepresented groups.


Opponents of affirmative action often call these efforts a collective failure. They cite tiny changes to the status quo after decades of effort as evidence. The cost of these programs, coupled with the belief that affirmative action forces people to make unwarranted accommodations, motivates a significant portion of the opposition.

Some people believe that there is little or no prejudice in society. They argue that affirmative action leads to reverse discrimination, which can often lead to qualified applicants being overlooked in academia and the workplace in favor of less qualified applicants who meet political standards.

Affirmative Action Stats

Affirmative action is a very controversial topic and often leads to heated debates between those who support it and those who believe it does not benefit society. Is there a way to quantify what people feel and how it works?

According to a Gallup poll, more than half of Americans (61%) believe in affirmative action policies. This level of support has increased since the last poll, where only 47% to 50% of individuals thought affirmative action was necessary. This increase in support is particularly significant, given the active issues surrounding race and identity in the United States and elsewhere.

Many Americans have a positive view of diversity. They are comfortable with the makeup of their communities, saying diversity has a positive impact on society as a whole.

There is quite a divide when it comes to identifying race and ethnicity for hiring purposes. In fact, about 74% of people believe that a candidate’s racial or ethnic background should not be considered when hiring or promoting them. These activities should only be based on someone’s merit and qualifications.

What is the purpose of affirmative action?

The goal of affirmative action is to increase opportunities for individuals and groups who have been historically underrepresented or, in some cases, excluded from certain areas of academia, government, and the workforce. private sector work. Affirmative Action Policies provide funding in the form of grants and scholarships to these communities.

Policies have been adopted to help people of different racial and national backgrounds. They have expanded to address gender, sexual orientation, and various disabilities.

What has been the result of positive action policies in higher education?

Affirmative action policies have helped to diversify higher education. When first adopted, the student body at most institutions of higher education was predominantly white. This has changed, leading to more diverse and vibrant student populations across the country.

How Regents v. Did Bakke change affirmative action policies?

The Regents v. Bakke case changed affirmative action policies by removing the use of racial quotas. The case was brought by Allan Bakke, who claimed he had been denied admission to medical school at the University of California twice because he was white. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bakke, saying racial quotas were unconstitutional.

Which US President defined and used the term affirmative action?

It was President John F. Kennedy. He did so in 1961, telling federal contractors to take “positive steps to ensure applicants are treated equally regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or origin. national”.

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