The Disappearance of Voluntary Affirmative Action from the U.S. Workplace
Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 2016
30 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2016 Last revised: 15 Mar 2016
Date Written: February 24, 2016
As voluntary affirmative action in the United States has been transformed into diversity management, the original intended beneficiaries of affirmative action, racial/ethnic minority group members and women, and particularly Black Americans, have been left behind.
Despite controversy over the use of racial quotas in the United States, demands for voluntary affirmative action by private employers grew into a nationwide movement in the 1960s under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Jesse Jackson. In cities across the United States with large Black populations, they demanded the use of proportional hiring so that companies selling their products to Black consumers would hire Black employees in proportion to the local Black population or their Black clientele. In the 1964 Civil Rights act, the U.S. Congress considered the affirmative action/proportional representation/quota issue and reached a compromise; employers would not be required to give preferences to Black applicants, but neither would they be prohibited from voluntarily doing so. In the 1970s and 80s the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the compromise, holding that private employers could give hiring and promotion preferences to underrepresented ethnic/racial minority workers (and women) to correct “imbalances” in the workplace, subject to certain limitations. Yet beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and accelerating into the twenty-first century, U.S. employers have abandoned affirmative action policies in favor of “diversity management” policies. While these policies initially focused on the hiring and promotion of women and racial/ethnic minorities, as diversity policies have grown and developed, they have abandoned their focus on aiding underrepresented workers. As a result, Black Americans are being left behind, even as the policies adopted through their advocacy have become widely accepted.
Keywords: affirmative action, racial discrimination, employment discrimination, diversity, diversity management, 1964 Civil Rights Act, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., voluntary affirmative action
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