Diversity Management

Effective Affirmative Action

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Equal employment concerns are a major factor in Human Resource and Management efforts, particularly for selection and placement programs. Some of the most valid approaches for selection (i.e., cognitive ability testing), also pose a potential risk for adverse impact. One way to reduce adverse impact in the selection process is to use test-banding, which equates people within a certain range of scores, to reduce group differences. Perhaps a more effective way is to implement a meaningful affirmative action plan (AAP) aimed at strengthening the organization by reducing group differences.

AAPs and Preferential Treatment

Affirmative actionis defined as any attempt by an organization to rectify past and current discrimination against members of protected classes, as defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There are four levels of AAPs. These are (in order of increasing preferential strength):
  • Ending discriminatory practice(s).
  • Providing enhancement opportunities (e.g., training) for protected/targeted groups that don’t affect employment decisions.
  • Selecting protected/targeted group applicants over equally qualified non-target group applicants.
  • Using quotas and selecting less qualified protected/targeted group applicants over more qualified non-target group applicants.

AAPs and Organizational Outcomes

Preferential AAPs, such as those described in the last two bullets above, are difficult to justify legally. The real (or perceived) use of preferential AAPS has negative psychological consequences as well. When it is perceived that preferential treatment has been used in selection, the new hires are viewed as less competent. In fact, belief they were given preferential treatment because of their group membership can even lead to self-doubt and loss of confidence for some members of certain target groups. Although limited, research has demonstrated that affirmative action in general has not had any negative effects on organizational performance.

Implications for Practice

Steps an organization can take to make their AAPs as effective as possible include:
  1. Gaining support from top-management.
  2. A culture that supports AA and also holds employees accountable for AAP success.
  3. Recruitment targeted at underrepresented groups, including use of diverse recruiters.
  4. Developing relationships with target group communities and schools.
  5. Showing organizational diversity in advertising materials, especially diversity among supervisors.
  6. Use of technical methods (such as test banding) for reducing adverse impact in selection.
  7. Establishing internship and mentoring opportunities that include target group members and are not preferential in nature.
  8. Developing and enforcing policies that decrease workplace harassment and incivility.
  9. Training managers in diversity-management (including better management practices in general).
  10. Providing employees with effective diversity training that emphasizes unintentional forms of discrimination.
  11. Providing training opportunities in skill areas that may especially benefit members of underrepresented groups (such as improving English composition skills), but are offered equally to all employees.
  12. Offering benefits to all employees that can be particularly attractive to members of underrepresented groups, such as day care.
  13. Work with suppliers and other organizations that are owned by members of underrepresented groups or that are successfully administering their own AAPs.
Practical conclusions from the research are that use of strong preferential treatment for AAPs is almost always counterproductive, both for legal and psychological-social reasons. However, there are several steps that organizations can take to increase the recruitment, selection, and retention of employees from underrepresented groups while not alienating majority and other non-target group members. Key tips include emphasizing that your AAP is not preferential in nature and reaching out to target groups on several levels.

Interpretation by:

Donnie Johnson

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Kravitz, D.A. (2008). The diversity-validity dilemma: Beyond selection – the role of affirmative action. Personnel Psychology, 61, 173-193.
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