Affirmative Action Definitions, Myths & Realities

Definitions

What does equal employment opportunity mean for the University of Oregon?

Through policy, programming and practice, the University of Oregon supports the right of individuals to be employed by or gain admission to the University of Oregon and to be afforded equal consideration for all the rights and privileges connected with university employment and educational programs, without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or any other extraneous consideration not directly and substantively related to effective performance.

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action is a process required of federal contractors to ensure equal employment opportunity. It requires a good faith effort to achieve and maintain a workforce in which women and people of color are represented at a level commensurate with their availability in the labor pool from which the employer can reasonably be expected to recruit. Affirmative action also applies to individual with disabilities and covered veterans* although with different requirements than for women and people of color.

*Recently separated veterans, armed forces service medal veterans, disabled veterans, and any other veteran who served in a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized.

Why do we need affirmative action and equal opportunity at the University of Oregon?

Women and people of color are represented within the University of Oregon workforce at a level that is less than their availability within relevant labor markets in a number of affirmative action job groups. [By regulation, job groups are groups of job titles that have similar content, wage rates and opportunities.] A truly level playing field would not yield these results. Studies have shown that unconscious bias continues to disadvantage women and people of color and preference continues to favor members of the dominant culture. Therefore, there is a continuing need for affirmative efforts to achieve equality of opportunity.

In addition, veterans and individuals with disabilities continue to have limited representation within our workforce. Ongoing efforts are required to attract and fairly consider members of those groups for UO employment opportunities.

As noted in its Mission Statement, the University of Oregon is committed to "acceptance of true diversity as an affirmation of individual identity within a welcoming community." To realize that goal, we need to be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that our community both reflects and respects diversity, and that community members from an increasingly broad range of backgrounds feel respected as individuals and included as members of the community.


Affirmative Action Myths & Realities

 

Myth:

Affirmative action is another name for quotas.

Reality:

Affirmative action requires the establishment of goals where either women or people of color are represented at less than availability within an affirmative action job group. Affirmative action regulations provide that goals serve as "targets reasonably attainable by means of applying every good faith effort to make all aspects of the entire affirmative action program work" and that goals "may not be rigid and inflexible quotas, which must be met." Quotas may be imposed only by judicial order, and only as a last resort to redress a pattern of blatant discrimination.

Myth:

Affirmative Action amounts to a form of "reverse discrimination."

Reality:

This myth implies that women and minorities are inherently less qualified than white males. Affirmative action regulations specifically state that goals "do not provide … a justification to extend a preference to any individual, select an individual, or adversely affect an individual's employment status, on the basis of that person's race, color, religion, sex or national origin." Affirmative action does mean taking affirmative steps to attract women and minorities for available employment opportunities and to ensure that candidates are evaluated fairly using non-biased job-related selection criteria. The fact that women and minorities continue to be represented at a level less than their availability in numbers of job groups refutes the notion that white men have been subject to "reverse discrimination."


Myth:

Affirmative Action rewards gender and race at the expense of merit.

Reality:

Affirmative action is intended to ensure that employers hire the most qualified people, including members of groups that previously have been subject to unlawful discrimination. The reality is that the best qualified candidates don't always get hired. A number of studies have shown that there continues to be a bias that favors men over women and non-minorities over minorities. Affirmative action is intended to alert us to this so we can work to overcome the biases that have disadvantaged women and minorities in the past.


Myth:

The pool of women and minorities in my field is so small that it is virtually impossible to effectively compete for the few who are available.

Reality:

There are some fields which women and minorities have not entered in large numbers. There are no major disciplines, however, in which women and minorities have not earned terminal degrees. Effective outreach and recruitment are important in helping us reach and attract women and minority candidates, particularly in fields in which there is limited availability. That outreach and recruitment should include networking with women and minorities in the field at other institutions, making efforts to be familiar with women and minorities in the academic pipeline, advertising in publications widely read by women and minorities or with women's or minority special interest groups within professional or scholarly organizations, etc. A study related to the commonly held belief that institutions must engage in "bidding wars" to attract scholars of color found that contention to be a grossly overstated. Of the nearly 200 scholars of color who participated in that study, most of whom earned their Ph.D.s from highly prestigious research universities, only 11% were personally solicited by academic institutions and received more than one job offer. It is important that we take responsibility for aggressively searching for diverse candidates and ensure a selection process as free from bias as possible, and not excuse lack of progress on the basis of an assumed inability to compete for a limited number of minority scholars.


Myth:

Affirmative Action undermines the self-esteem of women and people of color.

Reality:

It is not affirmative action that undermines the self-esteem of women and people of color, but racist and sexist thinking that stigmatizes women and people of color in the workforce by assuming that they were hired on the basis of their gender, race or ethnicity rather than their qualifications. Ongoing efforts to educate our community should help dispel the misguided notion that affirmative action means hiring less qualified candidates over better qualified candidates. In the meantime, ensuring access and opportunity is the right course in light of both our legal obligations and our institutional commitment to diversity.


Myth:

If federal and state affirmative action laws are repealed, workplace diversity will become a thing of the past.

Reality:

Given our increasingly diverse society and increasingly global economy, most employers have a vital need for employees who appreciate and can work effectively with colleagues and customers from a broad range of backgrounds. Most employers have found that the processes and results of affirmative action have been a benefit to the bottom line. As a result, many employers have embraced affirmative action as an effective part of their business culture. Ensuring diversity in higher education is particularly important given its role in preparing a significant sector of tomorrow's workforce. A recent report from the Business-Higher Education Forum noted, "Education in a diverse environment also enhances creativity, tolerance, innovation and problem-solving skills. A diverse workforce with these skills provides business organizations with a competitive advantage in responding to domestic and international markets." Given the recognized benefits, most employers would continue their efforts to ensure and respect diversity within their workforce regardless of federal or state affirmative action obligations.