Discrimination against minorities in the United States has existed for centuries, and each generation makes its own attempt to end this discrimination. The Civil War brought emancipation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped protected groups gain employment, and the Affirmative Action legislation of 1996 completed the gaps left by the Civil Rights Act. Although prejudices in American society have diminished greatly since the Civil War and even since the Civil Rights Act was passed, discrimination is still present within the United States.
Because there is no guarantee that employers will hire based solely upon merit and abilities, legislation is necessary to ensure that members of protected groups are not treated unfairly during the hiring and promotional processes. Affirmative action policies help regulate employment opportunities for women and minorities so that they are not robbed of job opportunities because of their status as a woman or minority member. Affirmative action policies act as the babysitters for organizations, and while they may need revision, they are certainly still necessary.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 While Affirmative Action is a fairly new government policy, its roots lie in the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, America’s attempt to end discrimination in the workplace does not begin there. During their terms in the White House, both Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt took steps to end discrimination. Eisenhower’s executive orders on federal contract compliance led to Roosevelt’s Executive Order 88021 of 1941, which banned discrimination in war industries and in the armed services (Mills,1994,p. 5).
Kennedy took the actions of these presidents one step further when he established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a branch of the federal government that is very active today. Although Kennedy only used the phrase “affirmative action” once while outlining the Commission’s goals, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 two years later, giving America, and Bill Clinton, firm ground to begin Affirmative Action. While the federal government had long since regulated things, such as food and medicine, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first instance of its regulation of human behavior (Muchinsky, 2003, p. 0).
Because African Americans were so underemployed, the government intervened in America’s hiring practices. Title VII of the Act allows the federal government to regulate and monitor the hiring practice that occurs within American organizations. The Civil Rights Act specifies that an employer may not refuse to hire based on one’s membership in a protected group, which the government defined as members of society who are granted legal recognition by virtue of a demographic characteristic, such as race, gender, national origin, color, age, religion, or disability.
Although protected groups encompass age, national origin, religion, and disability, most of the popular attention that the Civil Rights Act garnered was based upon race and gender. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 regulates all aspects of decision making and functions regarding personnel, including practices of training, promotion, retention, and performance appraisal. It also specifies that tests, interviews, assessment centers, and other on-the-job personnel evaluations and decisions are subject to the same guidelines and standards as hiring practices (Muchinsky, 2003, p. 0).
Kennedy carefully worded the Act so as not to give any preferential treatment to minority members, and, unlike Affirmative Action, the Civil Rights Act does not state that an employer must maintain a racial balance within his organization. The Act states that an employer cannot refuse to hire, or discharge, any person due to their membership in one of the protected groups. An employer may not separate or categorize applicants so as to deny anyone employment on the basis of their membership in any of the protected groups.
The Act also states that, when advertising employment or training opportunities, an employer cannot indicate his preference for any group, protected or non (Muchinsky, 2003, p. 141). Legal Theories of Discrimination The consequences of incompliance with the Civil Rights Act are based upon two legal theories of discrimination, adverse, or disparate, impact and disparate treatment.
According to the Act and to the federal government, adverse impact occurs when the result of using a particular personnel selection method results in an adverse effect on protected group members, in comparison with majority group members (Muchinsky, 2003, p. 1). For example, if there is evidence that an organization is refusing or failing to hire an entire group, such as African Americans or the aged, then adverse impact has occurred. Disparate treatment involves the treatment of a member of members of a protected group based. According to the Civil Rights Act, all job applicants should receive equal treatment and consideration during the hiring process.
If an organization is singling out a member or members of a protected group and treating them differently during the employment process, then the organization is engaging in disparate treatment of these individuals (Muchinsky, 2003, p. 141). Adverse impact is operationalized in the “80%” or “4/5ths” rule. This rule examines the selection ratio, the number of those hired divided by the number of those who applied, within an organization. According to the rule, if the selection ratio for any one of the protected groups is less than eighty percent of the selection ratio for another group, then adverse impact has occurred.
The EEOC investigates charges of adverse impact, and offers one of two ways for an organization to correct the problem: the organization may either prove that the test they are using is genuinely a valid predictor of job performance, or they must use a different test or measure that does not result in adverse impact (Muchinsky, 2004, p. 142). While the Civil Rights Act and the involvement of the EEOC in personnel decision- making benefited minorities entering the workforce, it was not enough to create equality.
Simply changing the guidelines for hiring practices does not allow any minority group to “catch up” to the others; it simply allows them to join the employment game in which they are so far behind. Psychological Theories of Discrimination Although the government has lent its own theories and definitions of discrimination to the Affirmative Action debate, the driving force of discrimination lies within human nature; the basic concept of discrimination is a psychological one that has been examined for centuries.
In 1957, Gary Becker asserted that certain groups have a tendency to discriminate based upon an aversion to other groups. Becker asserts that the two most blatant and frequent forms of discrimination are racial discrimination and sexual discrimination. Through marriage, men and women diminish the amount of gender discrimination because marriage often promotes equality within the home, which furthers equality within the workplace. However, interracial marriage is still taboo within American society, providing few opportunities to breach the gap among races and ethnicities.
Becker asserts that the fundamental basis of all discrimination is a lack of understanding or knowledge of race, ethnicity, and gender; people are afraid of, and therefore discriminate against, that which they do not understand. Discrimination against immigrants may result from their tendency to live in areas where other immigrants of their own country have already settled. DeFreitas(2000) found that over half of the Mexican immigrants in the United States work principally with other Mexican immigrants, and they most often work in small establishments(p. 102).
This separation often leads to a smaller customer pool; most of the customers who frequent the immigrants’ establishments were also Mexican immigrants. These customers were more likely to demand products of which the immigrant has particular knowledge, discouraging him from expanding his knowledge of other skills or products. DeFreitas also asserts that the language barrier between many immigrants and other members of American society lends to discrimination; by associating primarily, or solely, with members of their own ethnicity, these workers were not given incentive to learn the English language.
Kossoudiji (1988) found that a lack of English language does not lead to a lack of productivity; it merely leads to a resistance to assimilate. If immigrants are able to thrive socially as well as productively within their own enclaves in America, then they have no incentive to break down cultural barriers. Therefore, they have neither the drive nor the ability to join the workforce outside of their communities, and this separation lends to discrimination. Evans (2003) found that whites may be less likely to discriminate in an affirmative action environment due to a sense of guilt.
The majority of white participants reported a sense of guilt, a self – focused emotion, in association with discrimination towards African Americans in the workforce. Personal guilt is often associated with restitution, and the study found white guilt to be predictive of support for affirmative action. Guidelines of Federal Affirmative Action In 1995, because of the continuing debate over affirmative action, Clinton requested a review of all affirmative action programs, and, despite noticeable need for improvement, Clinton judged Federal affirmative action programs to be fair (White House, 1995).
Affirmative Action built upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, instead of simply helping protected groups enter the workforce, Affirmative Action aimed to create employment equity for those who received the initial “push” from the Civil Rights Act. The first goal of affirmative action explicitly states that the legislation is aimed at correcting past inequities and remedying the effects of those iniquities. This section of Affirmative Action is perhaps the least understood and most debated because it does not specify as to how Americans are supposed to correct the discrimination that dates back to the foundation of this country.
The remaining purposes of Affirmative Action are geared towards correcting current discrimination within the workforce. It proposes to promote diversity within the government and private organizations, asserting that increasing the number of minorities in any work environment will lead to an increase in the diversity of skills, ideas, and values. Affirmative Action aims to promote inclusion and representation in occupations and to improve the economic standing of minorities and women (White House, 1995). Types of Affirmative Action within an Organization
According to Ledvinka and Scarpello (1991), there are five types, or levels, of affirmative action within an organization. The first of these levels is recruitment, in which an organization specifically aims its recruitment policies towards protected group members. The second involves removing discriminatory obstacles; in order to do so, an organization must take action in such ways as altering training programs, creating special training programs, and to identify and revise policies that result in discrimination.
The third type of affirmative action is referred to as soft preferential treatment, and is possibly the second most controversial aspect of affirmative action . Ledvinka and Scarpello operationalized soft preferential treatment in terms of selecting or choosing the protected group member; if a protected group member and a nonprotected group member apply for the same position, the organization hires the protected group member.
This treatment is most frequently used when both applicants are equally qualified for the position. However, soft preferential treatment is sometimes used even when the protected group member meets the basic qualifications necessary to perform the job, even though the nonprotected group member is more qualified overall. The most controversial type of affirmative action, hard preferential treatment, is operationalized in terms of selecting a protected group member due solely to their membership in the protected group.
Those who oppose this treatment have proposed that it is synonymous with reverse discrimination, although it is exemplified in common practices, such as the use of quotas or race norming (Ledvinka & Scarpello, 1991). The fifth level of affirmative action is diversity, whose efforts are aimed at creating a multicultural work environment. Attitude and Trait Theories A large part of understanding the basis and possible reactions to Affirmative Action in the workplace is understanding certain theories associated with the idea.
Fishbein and Ajzen’s reasoned action theory (1975) asserts that people are rational decision makers who carefully examine available information when forming an attitude. Human beings are viewed as rational, cautious decision makers in all aspects of their lives. Fishbein and Ajzen examine the actual behavior of an individual, not the reaction to a proposed policy or to another person. The best predictor of their behavior is the expressed intention to behave in a certain manner, and behavior is directed towards a certain object.
In the case of Affirmative Action within the workplace, the object is another person. For example, the reasoned action theory would apply to the behavior of a male employee towards a female employee whom he believes was hired due to Affirmative Action guidelines, and experimenters would measure his behavior towards this female. In another scenario, the theory would apply to the way in which one involved in personnel decision – making might behave when asked to comply with Affirmative Action within his own organization (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1975).
The two primary components used to predict behavioral intentions are the individual’s attitudes or beliefs about performing the behavior and the individual’s subject norm, or the pressure on the individual to either perform or not perform the behavior (Fishbein, 1980). Attitudes and behavior stem from two different sources, the first being the individual’s estimate of the probability that the behavior will have a particular outcome. The second component is the individual’s evaluation of each single outcome; he must perceive the outcome as either favorable or unfavorable.
For example, if one were going to predict the behavior of a personnel officer was going to react to the implementation of Affirmative Action policies which he opposes, one must first examine the officer’s beliefs regarding the outcome of implementing the policy; one must examine whether the officer believes that, by following Affirmative Action guidelines, he must hire more minority employees (or, from the officer’s viewpoint, whether he could avoid hiring these minorities).
Secondly, one must also examine the extent to which the officer believes that, by sabotaging the implementation of Affirmative Action policies, he could actually accomplish his intended goal of not hiring minorities. One must also examine other perceptions that the officer may hold, such as the belief that his own performance appraisal may suffer if he does not hire minorities. By weighing all components of the officer’s attitude, one is able to predict whether he will indeed sabotage the implementation of Affirmative Action.
The attribution theory (Heider, 1958) examines how people evaluate others and how people make inferences about the causes of individual behavior, as well as about the causes of events. This theory allows researchers to study the impact that Affirmative Action may have on both others’ perceptions of its beneficiaries and the beneficiaries’ perceptions of their own abilities. In simplified terms, the attribution theory states that people are motivated to understand the underlying causes of all human behavior.
Trope (1986) classified these causes as either situational or dispositional. Situational attributions are those which assign the cause of the behavior to some external or environmental event. Dispositional attributions place the cause of behavior within an individual. For example, a student with situational attributions would decide that he scored well on a test because the test was easy. A student with dispositional attributions would decide that he scored well on the test because he prepared well for it.
Using the basic principles of the attribution theory, one can examine the ways in which people evaluate the beneficiaries of Affirmative Action; the theory helps investigate the ways in which these policies affect people’s views of the abilities of those who benefit from such policies. Under Affirmative Action and preferential treatment guidelines, women and minorities may be hired or promoted partially because of their membership in a protected group.
This treatment does not guarantee that all minority members and women are unqualified and therefore hired solely due to their protected group status. However, research has found that many people believe that Affirmative Action places more emphasis on group status than it does on ability when employment decisions are made (Eberhardt & Fiske, 1994; Kravitz et al. , 1999). It may be this belief system, and not people’s objective opinion of the reality of the work environment, that cause some to oppose Affirmative Action.
The attribution theory suggests that some people will make situational attributions to the hiring or success of beneficiaries when they believe such success is based upon preferential treatment. In a non-Affirmative Action based work environment, people may be more likely to attribute others’ successes in a dispositional manner; one would likely believe that a coworker received a pay raise due to his job performance. However, in an Affirmative Action environment, employees may be more likely to attribute successes in a situational manner (Eberhardt & Fiske, 1994).
When a race – or sex – based policy is present, workers have an alternate explanation for the successes achieved by those as a result of such policies. This attribution allows people to question the competency and abilities of the beneficiaries, and this external attribution is likely to increase when stronger forms of Affirmative Action are used. Nonbeneficiaries are likely to attribute the success of beneficiaries in part, if not completely, to the affects of the policy.
According to the attribution theory, Affirmative Action policies may lead to negative attributions towards beneficiaries because nonbeneficiaries may overestimate their own abilities when comparing themselves to minorities or women, especially when in competition for an opportunity (Larwood, 1982). One who is considered an “average” worker may believe that he possesses qualifications superior to those of a beneficiary. This system of beliefs would cause the nonbeneficiary to perceive the beneficiary more negatively, attributing the beneficiary’s success to affirmative action, an external factor.
The attribution theory also examines beneficiaries’ perception of their own abilities and merit. The attribution theory predicts that, like their nonbeneficiary competitors or coworkers, beneficiaries may attribute their own success to the implementation of affirmative action policies. However, Eberhardt and Fiske (1994) assert that this may not always be the case. Humans tend to evaluate themselves in more positive terms than they evaluate others, and this bias may actually negate some potentially negative effects of affirmative action.
Secondly, beneficiaries may feel a sense of entitlement to affirmative action benefits, and the benefits may in turn lend to the beneficiary’s self – confidence (Stewart & Shapiro, 1999). Individual – Collectivism focuses on how individual and cultural differences shape one’s opinions of others, especially within a work environment. Triandis (1996) suggests that the attributes associated with individual – collectivism can be defined by the meaning of the self, the structure of goals, norms and attitudes, and the degree of focus on the need of the group.
Individualistic people can be defined as those who stress individual efforts and competitiveness. They give priority to personal goals and view the self and social space in terms of individuals. Collectivists rely upon groups as the primary unit of analysis, and for collectivists, behavior is a function of group norms and then attitudes. Individualists view relationships in the work environment in terms of exchange, while collectivists view these relationships in more communal terms; collectivists tend to have beliefs which center on solidarity and group well – being.
For collectivists, the workplace and its employees comprise a community in which each person must work for the betterment of the “family. ” Individualists tend to view the workplace as an opportunity for personal betterment. Affirmative action programs require individualists to operate in a collectivistic manner; these individuals must often sacrifice or alter their own goals for the good of the group. Therefore, one would predict that individualists would strongly oppose affirmative action, while collectivists would easily comply with the programs.
The “Big Five” approach to personality, also referred to as the five – factor personality model (McCrae & Costa, 1985), helps predict individual’s opinions of and reactions to affirmative action based upon their personality type. According to this theory, one can reduce any of the possible personality related attributes to five basic factors using any number of different statistical methods. The first factor in the “Big 5” theory is neuroticism, the individual’s level of stability versus instability.
The second factor is extraversion, the individual’s tendency to be assertive, sociable, active, talkative, outgoing, and energetic. The third factor is openness to experience; one who is open is curious, imaginative, and unconventional. The fourth factor is agreeableness, the individual’s disposition to be cooperative, helpful, and easy to get along with. The final factor of the theory is conscientiousness, the individual’s tendency to be purposeful, organized, controlled, and determined; one who is conscientious is likely to be viewed as a good worker (Muchinsky, 2003, p. 5-146).
Although very little research has been done on the Big Five personality traits in relation to view on affirmative action, one would imagine that certain personality traits would cause an individual to be more or less opposed to the policy. For example, one who is very agreeable may be more likely to accept and agree with affirmative action implementation in his work place. However, one who is very conscientiousness may be too concerned with his own success and abilities to agree with the policy.