I have two meetings today that have to do with workforce diversity, and thinking about them has prompted me to say something about Affirmative Action. Specifically, when we talk about Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EO/AA), I often hear people say, "I get EO, sure; every has the same opportunity. But doesn't AA conflict with that? Aren't we giving an edge to some groups, making things unequal?"
Let me, then, give my view of what AA means, putting it in the context of hiring someone for an open position.
When we're recruiting candidates to hire, we post notices, visit universities, contact professors and colleagues for referrals. We're looking for a pool of prospects, from which we choose the best. As we do that, we take affirmative action to get women and minority candidates into the pool. We'll make sure that, in addition to other places, we post the job opportunities where they will reach the target groups. In addition to other universities, we'll make a point of visiting those with a large African-American student body. When we talk with our colleagues, we'll ask them specifically about the qualified women they know.
Note the in addition to others part. AA doesn't mean that we only look for workforce minorities, but that we make a point of including those minority groups in our search.
Once we have a pool of prospects, we consider them all, and we hire the best, the most qualified, those we think have the brightest future with us. We do not consider their minority status here, because we took care of that in the candidate search. Now our concern is hiring the best people for the jobs we want to fill. The black man and the Latina don't get preference over the white guy; everyone competes equally — everyone has an equal opportunity.
Affirmative Action isn't there to give a preference to anyone. It's there to combat the "old boy network", to help get rid of the "sameness" that can happen when our own social networks are what we use to fill the candidate pools. And a diverse workforce is a good thing for many reasons. A diversity of backgrounds gives us a valuable mixture of thoughts and ideas. We have new social networks through which we can find still more qualified job applicants. Those who've been around for a while can serve as role models and mentors for others.
And, hey, it just makes it a more interesting place to be.