Questions & Myths
What is affirmative action?
Affirmative action is the good faith obligation of all federal contractors to achieve and maintain a workforce that is representative of the proportion of qualified women and minorities in the population. Affirmative action obligations also extend to qualified Vietnam-era veterans and people with disabilities. To that end, federal contractors like Western Kentucky University establish and implement guidelines that encourage the recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion of these groups.
What is equal employment opportunity?
Equal employment opportunity is the establishment and maintenance of a nondiscriminatory work environment that actively promotes the rights of all individuals in employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status, disability, veteran status, and sexual orientation.
Why do we need affirmative action and equal opportunity at the Western Kentucky University?
Women, minorities, Vietnam-era veterans, and people with disabilities are not employed in proportions in which they are qualified and available.
Women and minorities may experience a "glass ceiling," which means they are not promoted to managerial and executive positions, even though they have the training and education necessary to perform at these levels.
There is a continuing need to improve the "climate" on campus in order to create a welcoming environment that embraces diversity as an essential element in achieving the mission of the institution.
Myth: Affirmative action programs are based on quotas.
Reality: Quotas are specifically prohibited by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and are held to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by the United States Supreme Court. Quotas may be imposed by judicial order, but only as a last resort to redress a pattern of blatant discrimination. Affirmative Action programs do use goals. Goals are used as ideal targets. Ideally, the percentage of women and minorities working in a "job group" (groups of employees with similar salaries, duties, and opportunities) should be similar to the percentage of women and minorities qualified for such positions. When this is not the case, it is assumed that something other than "chance" is occurring in the recruitment and selection process and an employer is required to set good faith goals to correct the process. Sanctions are not issued when an employer does not reach a goal. Sanctions can be issued if the employer does not demonstrate good faith in correcting problems in its recruitment or selection procedures.
Myth: Affirmative Action rewards gender and race at the expense of merit.
Reality: Affirmative Action is not synonymous with mediocrity or second best. Federal affirmative action regulations are clear that employers should hire the best qualified applicant for the position. The reality is that the most deserving candidates don't always get the job. Merit is only a part of who gets hired or promoted. Often the distinction between the qualifications of the top candidates for any position is small. In addition, extraneous factors such as favoritism, professional or personal associations, stereotypes and even discrimination find their way into the final decision. No study has empirically demonstrated that unqualified women or minorities attain positions solely on the basis of affirmative action. There is good evidence to suggest, however, that white men often get positions due to factors other than merit. The Glass Ceiling Commission found that white men with four or more years of college were 40% more likely to hold administrative, managerial, and executive positions than should be statistically expected, given their numbers in the workforce.
Myth: Affirmative Action amounts to a form of "reverse discrimination".
Reality: This myth, of course, implies that women and minorities are inherently less qualified than white males. Affirmative action does not mean giving preference to any group. Double standards are inconsistent with the principles and spirit of affirmative action and are unlawful. Affirmative action does attempt to ensure that any pool of candidates include qualified women and minorities in proportion to their statistical availability.
Myth: Women and Minorities no longer need affirmative action.
Reality: Although women and minorities have made significant gains in employment over the last 30 years, both groups continue to lag behind their white male counterparts. For example, the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission found that only 3-5% of senior executive positions in the private sector are held by women. Only 5% of those women are women of color.
Myth: The pool of women and minorities in my field is so small that it is virtually impossible to find any.
Reality: True, there are some fields in which women and minorities have not entered in large numbers, but there are no fields in which women and minorities have not been trained. Applicant pools can be enlarged and diversified by applying the principles of an affirmative action search. This includes consulting with women and minorities in your department, networking with women and minorities in the same field at other universities, posting advertisements in publications that are widely read by women and minorities. In short, some searches may require "affirmative action" to attract a diverse pool of qualified applicants.
Myth: If federal and state affirmative action laws are repealed, workplace diversity will become a thing of the past.
Reality: The authors of Workforce 2000 projected that by the year 2000, white men will represent only 15% of new entrants into the labor force, while women would account for 55% (of which 13% would be minority women), minority men would be 7%. The remaining new workers would be immigrants, and persons with disabilities. The reality is that employers (including universities) will have no alternative than to employ a diverse workforce. Nevertheless, an employer's ability to attract the best qualified applicants will be a measure of its past and present commitment to creating an environment that welcomes diversity. Almost 3/4 of Fortune 500 companies indicate they would continue their own affirmative action type programs even if federal and state laws were weakened or repealed.