The Supreme Court alone has the power to make final decisions that either further the goals of Affirmative Action or bring the program to an end. But in the meantime, my colleagues and clients often discuss how a diverse culture in an organization helps the growth of the organization. Diverse populations help business to reach diverse customers, as people feel more comfortable working with those they feel they can relate to. In the staffing and HR industry, we explore these issues frequently, and while open communication furthers our dialogue and helps us understand the complexities of racial equality, none of our conversations have led to a clear yes or no answer to this important question.
In my recent course at ManhattanCollege(www.manhattan.edu), my students had a heated discussion in which about half of the participants opposed affirmative action and the other half felt strongly that it was still needed.
On one side, critics of Affirmative Action claim that with an African American president in the White House and representatives of every ethnicity and gender holding many of the highest offices in the land, Affirmative Action has surely achieved its intended purpose and should now be dismantled. Once the playing field is officially even, any further quotas or artificial assistance constitute simple—and ironic– racial or gender-based favoritism. According to this logic, once all groups have equal access to success, then favoring one group is exactly the same as favoring another.
But this argument only succeeds when entrenched obstacles to equality have been universally and unquestionably removed, and racism and sexism are proven to have no further influence in the workplace. So far, this simply has not been the case. Racial and gender-based bias remains a pervasive, and often unconscious, aspect of workplace life. Until boardrooms are staffed by faces that reflect population demographics, it will be clear that our education system and hiring practices are still burdened by skewed assumptions, flawed selection protocols, and imbalanced access to opportunity.
As students, teachers, managers, employees, and citizens, it’s our goal to find out where in the system these obstacles lie, and then root them out. Once we’ve successfully accomplished this, Affirmative Action will no longer have a place in our culture. But we still have a long way to go.