the encouragement of increased representation of women and minority-group members, especially in employment.
affirmative action (n)
positive discrimination; a policy or program designed to counter discrimination against minority groups and women in areas such as employment and education.
3. affirmative action (n)
A term referring to various government policies that aim to increase the proportion of African-Americans, women, and other minorities in jobs and educational institutions historically dominated by white men. The policies usually require employers and institutions to set goals for hiring or admitting minorities.
Note : Affirmative action has been extremely controversial. Supporters maintain that it is the only way to overcome the effects of past discrimination and promote integration. Critics dismiss it as “reverse discrimination,” denying opportunities to qualified whites and men.
First instituted in the 1960s and 1970s by employers and educational institutions in response to pressures from civil rights groups, federal legislation, and court rulings, preferential treatment programs seek to rectify the effects of past and ongoing discrimination against women and racial minorities. These programs are designed as temporary measures to increase the employment and educational opportunities available to qualified women and minorities by giving them preference in hiring, promotion, and admission. Toward this goal, some firms and institutions aggressively recruit minorities and women, others set numerical targets and timetables to raise the level of minority and female representation, and still others establish quotas to hire or admit a specified number of minority and female candidates.
These programs have brought or accompanied significant gains for women and minorities. In the past 25 years, black participation in the work force has increased 50 percent and the percentage of blacks holding managerial positions has jumped fivefold. In 1970, women comprised only 5 percent of lawyers compared to 20 percent today. Twenty-five years ago, the student population at University of California, Berkeley, was 80 percent white compared to 45 percent today.
Despite these strides, severe inequities remain. Nearly 97 percent of corporate senior executives in the United States are white. Only 5 percent of all professionals are black though blacks comprise 12.7 percent of the work force. Hispanics hold only 4 percent of white-collar jobs but make up 7.5 percent of the work force.