Affirmative Action from a Business Perspective

It is safe to say that businesses want the best of the best when considering a pool of candidates for hire.  The goal of affirmative action is not to give positions to minorities that are not qualified for certain position.  That being said, the AA program does bring up discussion on what makes a person truly qualified for a job.  Obviously the general belief is that those candidates with good test scores and solid undergraduate GPAs are the best equipped to succeed in a professional setting.  However, there is debate over the value of “soft skills” and how the current education system is not designed to help those strong in this skillset to succeed.

From the perspective of businesses, the effects of affirmative action are based on the link between cognitive skills and what I’ll call “the x- factor.”  Standardized testing and straight academic ability are the key contributors to a student being accepted or denied from various colleges.  It is common knowledge that the better a university’s reputation, the better jobs its alumni will receive.  The question is, which skills are more valuable in terms of building a successful career?  If an exceptionally strong cognitive skill set is imperative to success in a given field, then it can be assumed that affirmative action does not benefit this particular profession.  On the other hand, if intangible x-factor qualities (i.e. communication skills, personality, likeability, and ethical behavior) contribute more to success, then testing results should bear little weight in the hiring process.

From a legal standpoint, there are three stages of hiring that employers must take into consideration when using the affirmative action program.  The first is the utilization analysis.  This is the comparison of the percentage of a minority in the general work force to the percentage employed within the company.  If the latter is larger than the former, then the minority is deemed to be “underutilized.”  Once a minority group has been deemed as underutilized, the employer must determine a deadline by which the percentage increase must be met.  In order to achieve this increase, the employer takes what is called defensible action steps.  These are recruiting efforts specialized to attract qualified minority candidates.  Such efforts should not end once the minimum hiring percentage is met.  There are also actions to be taken to allow further advancement in the company.  These include training and mentoring programs to increase human capital and career development. Simply filling quotas is illegal.

While this seems reasonable, there are issues to be raised with the process- primarily the resources expended when installing the various minority recruiting and training efforts.  While it is technically fair to maintain a minority ratio the same as in the general workforce, is it reasonable to ask companies to spend money on this initiative?
Given the current economic condition in the U.S., many companies feel that they should not be required to invest time and money hiring and training a minority candidate when they could hire a prepared white candidate for a fraction of the cost.


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