In a recent post about affirmative action in India we had a relatively good discussion going in the comments section, but what I realized is that most people don’t have a real understanding of what affirmative action is and how it is actually implemented.Â Of course, the reason most people don’t know what it is or how it is used is because most people have never sat on a university admissions committee, or they have never been responsible for making hiring decisions in a corporate or educational setting.Â Having been involve in a few hiring decisions and having been on an admissions committee, I have a little experience, I thought I would share a little about how these committees work.Â One of the first things that people should know is that affirmative action is used not only for race.Â Other factors such as national origin, gender, veteran’s status, and age. (For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to discuss hiring, and not admissions.)
When most universities (not all but most) hire faculty members, they asked that job candidates send their resumes directly to the head of the search committee or the head of the department.Â Once applications are received candidates are sent a small postcard asking about their basic demographic information, including race and gender (and often a few other questions…like how did you hear about the job, are you a veteran and so on). Â That card is then sent back to the human resources department or affirmative action compliance office on campus.Â The search committee does not see this card, and the race and gender of candidates is never given to the hiring committee.
In the mean time, the hiring committee reviews applications.Â In both of the committees I have been on there was an initial screening that weeded out unqualified candidates and less qualified candidates.Â How did we decide who was qualified?Â It depended on the particular search, but several key issues were…did they have the right area of study, could they teach the classes we were looking for, were they committed to research (at the research school), did they have publications, and would they be done with their dissertation or at least very close to being done.Â At this stage race and/or gender were not discussed much at all because it was evident that the candidates were not qualified for the particular position described.Â Once we had a “long short list,” which consisted of our top 10 (or so) candidates.Â We went through their files more thoroughly to look for other possible problems or prospects that may have been overlooked.Â In one case, we ended the search because we only had 1 candidate who we thought was qualified for the position.Â This person was a person of color, but we knew that bringing in one person would not pass the muster with the compliance office or the higher level administrators.Â There is a strong expectation that at least 3 candidates be brought in for an interview, and there were not 3 in the applicant pool who were qualified.Â In both cases we did discuss race once we had a long short list (The were not many substantive discussions of gender, as women candidates were well represented in the departments.)Â Both departments had a severe underrepresentation of racial minorities…one department had all Whites, the other had 3 people of color.Â People on the committee did not agree about how much of a factor race should play, but it was unanimous on both committees that it would be “good” if we ultimately hired a person of color since the department was not diverse.
But there was a major obstacle when it came to considering race; we did not know the race of the candidates.Â For the most part it is easy to figure out what gender people are from their applications, so it would be untrue to say that the process is gender blind.Â Race can sometimes be determined from a close look at the application, and in some cases a references letter would let people know the race of the candidate.Â In the committees I was on, many people thought they knew the race of the candidates but were wrong in several cases.Â I say this because I have met some of the candidates after the fact since the world of sociology is relatively small. (I suspect this would not be the case in corporate settings where resumes and applications are significantly shorter and have significantly less information.Â It is not unusual to have applications that are over 30 pages, including references, teaching evals and so on.)Â So unless it was readily apparent from the application, we could not determine race, which makes it very difficult to use race as a factor in the hiring process.
Once the top candidates are announced, their names are passed on to the university’s affirmative action compliance or human resources office.Â The office checks the race and gender of the applicants based on the cards returned to them…many of these are not returned and they are optional.Â The compliance office usually approves the search.Â The final candidates might not be approved if the department has a long history of not bringing in diverse applicants.Â If a search is not approved, the compliance office may ask the department to try to increase the diversity of the applicant pool by extending the search or advertising in other outlets.Â If the department still doesn’t get a diverse group of candidates, then the search could continue as is or be extended.Â The whole process of revising a search is rare, but not unprecedented.
Once candidates get to campus they go through a long interview process (which I think is the part of the process that is most opened to racism or sexism).Â I can say that some people in the interview process strongly believed that if two candidates were equally qualified that candidates from underrepresented minority groups should be offered the position.Â However, few people thought two candidates were equally qualified.Â After the interview, most people had a clear favorite candidate, and the department ranked candidates 1-2-3 and decided if they were hirable.Â It is very difficult get people 20 some people to agree so this part of the process is very difficult.Â The reason I think the part of the process is most opened to racism is because race seems to dramatically impact how candidates are viewed face to face.Â But people are allowed to have their biases and do not have to give any particular reason as to why they oppose a candidate.Â Since the particular hiring committees, I was on didn’t result in hires, I can’t say exactly how the process would have played in those particular cases.
This is actually why I think affirmative action is not particularly powerful at ending discrimination.Â It is very limited in its scope.Â In the cases I have seen the only real stop gap on discrimination is the compliance office.Â This office also does a very good job at tracking hiring trends, which lets a school know if there is a pattern of exclusion, but as far as the decisions, people are pretty much left up to their own devices to decide on which candidates that they like, which of course means that they still have their biases.
I give this very long drawn out discussion to let people know how affirmative action in hiring actually works in at least one real life case.Â There are no quotas and no hiring requirements.Â In fact, quotas have been illegal since 1978, when the US Supreme Court ruled that quota based affirmative action was not constitutional (See University of California Regents v. Bakke 1978). So what constitutes affirmative action? Here are a few examples taken from sociologist Barbara Reskin’s book The Realities of Affirmative Action:setting goals and time tables, identifying under utilized talent, using recruitment methods that reach the whole pool of candidates, fully utilizing employees skills, forging alliances with school and community groups to increase pool of possible workers, monitoring sex and race differences in hiring and promotions, self evaluation, advertising as an equal opportunity employer.
What is fascinating about most of these techniques is that they have little or nothing to do with the application review process. Instead they focus more on reaching the full applicant pool, and monitoring overall trends in recruitment. The notion that White applicants or male applicants are put at the back of the pool or ignored is incorrect. Additionally, the idea that women, Blacks, Latinos, or American Indians are put at the front of the pool and some how treated better is also incorrect. In fact, many of the biggest supporters of affirmative action are White business owners and educational leaders, who are mostly male. Most businesses have voluntary affirmative action programs. There have never been laws passed or executive orders issued requiring any type of affirmative action in hiring or promotions for private companies. The reason big businesses want affirmative action is because they benefit tremendously from a diverse workforce, and the impression (often false impression, but image counts) that they do not discriminate. If affirmative action was harmful to Whites, why would White business owners institute affirmative action policies on a voluntary basis.
Having been involved in a few hiring committees and one admissions committee I can assure people that affirmative action doesn’t exclude Whites, especially those highly qualified Whites. In fact, my personal sense is that the very limited scope of most affirmative action programs allows discrimination to remain firmly entrenched in the hiring and promotions process. But it is important for people to know exactly how a hiring process works in order for htem to understand the realities of affirmative action.
I’m not posting this entry at Rachel’s Tavern, but it will be posted at Ally Work if you would like to help me debate with some affirmative action opponents.
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If affirmative action was harmful to Whites, why would White business owners institute affirmative action policies on a voluntary basis.
Because the white business owners aren’t the ones who would be harmed. As you say; they get the benefit of the policy (diverse workforce, for what that’s worth, and the public percpetion of gee-what-nice-guys). It’s other white people who would pay the price, whatever that price is.
I personally have no objection to affirmative action in the workplace. It’s in admissions where it has no place, and is counterproductive and indeed destructive to minority ambitions and achievement.
Robert I do believe you have converted to Marxism. :)
On some level I agree with you. Diversity is good for business, and good for the bottom line, but I don’t feel low income Whites folks are hurt more than low income Black and Brown folks.
First, I would like to thank Rachel S. for taking the time to share her experiences with us.
Rachel said “There have never been laws passed or executive orders issued requiring any type of affirmative action in hiring or promotions for private companies. The reason big businesses want affirmative action is because they benefit tremendously from a diverse workforce, and the impression (often false impression, but image counts) that they do not discriminate. If affirmative action was harmful to Whites, why would White business owners institute affirmative action policies on a voluntary basis?”
Well, as a sociologist, Rachel should know that the racial status of these business owners is inconsequential in relation to their decision to practice or not practice AA in hiring.
The reason why these business owners would be interested in AA is directly related to PROFIT of their business (es).
As Rachel said, there are no laws requiring AA in the Private Sector.
Private sector business owners (white or otherwise) would only be interested in AA if such an action would give them more business through good PR and in turn increase the dividends reaped by the shareholders in their company.
The bottom line of company X has nothing to do with the welfare of white people as a whole.
AA is harmful to whites inasmuch it ‘diversifies’ for the sake of diversity.
Other than the issue of the impact of AA on whites; I think that Rachel did an excellent (superb) job of explaining the process of AA in hiring faculty at a university. I appreciate that.
The only thing I know about A.A. is when it starts to become effective and in some cases, exceot for White women, just barely scratching the surface of a problem, it soon becomes illegal.
What about the AA for men, including white men, that has been going on quietly for several years, and more openly in recent years, when it comes to university admissions? If the article on this in NYT a couple of months ago is anything to go by, this brand of AA is not being limited to outreach efforts and monitoring for diversity, and is being implemented as a straight-out preference for a male over an equally or better qualified female. While AA for minorities (in hiring and admissions) and women (in hiring) has been mostly rendered ineffective by aggressive lawsuits, and so limited in scope as to be practically useless, nobody seems to be making much of a fuss (legally, at least) about the AA for men in admissions.
Kali, I am familiar with the argument that you are making, but I am hesistant to call that affirmative action. I think many of those policies were out right discrimination, and should be considered as such.
Here is a link to an article that outlines some of those programs you are addressing……
Radfem, “The only thing I know about A.A. is when it starts to become effective and in some cases, exceot for White women, just barely scratching the surface of a problem, it soon becomes illegal.”
Yeah, in some ways that’s part of the point I am making. At this point in time, it is relatively weak and getting weaker. What is also disturbing to me is the Bush administrations complete and utter unwillingness to enforce Civil Rights and discrimination law suits.
Douglass said, Private sector business owners (white or otherwise) would only be interested in AA if such an action would give them more business through good PR and in turn increase the dividends reaped by the shareholders in their company.
The bottom line of company X has nothing to do with the welfare of white people as a whole.”
I agree that it is partly about PR, but it is also about the bottom line in other ways. One of the things companies realized is that diversifying their workers also helped them create more targeted and niche markets. Having a broader and more diverse group of workers actually makes the company function better because they are utilizing the talents of everybody, and not just the White guy buddies of the boss. Remember the famous Saturn campaign directed at women car buyers; I think cases like were rare before affirmative action.
I also get the sense that White business owners don’t want to see a world where people of color rule their industries. I would say they think bottom line first, welfare of similarly situated people second, and the welfare of people of color is would actually be way down there on the list.
(Deleted at Richard’s request. –Amp)
RJN said, “How do you factor that kind of value into a consideration of qualifications when you talk about hiring a teacher? Should you?”
The question of role models is important, but I personally would be hesistant to use that until the actual interview process.. I think I would be looking for someone who is willing to actively work with students of color, but I am a little hesistant to consider that until after the person comes to campus. I think it is more likely that a person of color would work with students of color, but I think it would still need to be considered on a case by case basis.
That said, I do think there are times where race is one aspect of a person’s qualification. I think about the example of me hiring someone to do interviews about interracial marriage. I think, for methodological reasons, I would like to race/gender match interviewers in many cases. Another example, I can’t imagine that having a male sexual assault nurse would be wise. I think there are rare occasions where gender and race should be considered as factors that qualify people to move up in the applicant pool.
AA is obviously harmful to whites at one level: if you have to compete against a larger pool of qualified people, then the chances that you won’t make the grade go up. Anything that unfairly excludes qualified people (but doesn’t have a chance of excluding you) increases your chances of making the grade.
AA isn’t unfair to whites, since having to compete against a larger and more diverse pool of qualified applicants is certainly fair.
AA arguably (and I certainly agree) benefits whites by leading to a more humane society (which benefits everyone).
AA isn’t unfair to whites, since having to compete against a larger and more diverse pool of qualified applicants is certainly fair.
Congratulations, you just wiped out 100 years of left-wing thought on labor economics in one sentence. I’ll put your name down on the “More Globalization Now!” petitions. ;)
Rachel, your description of matching teachers and pupils interests me.
Wouldn’t it be better doing the opposite? So that the students get access to a wider range of cultural codes and are more aware of how other people work.
I’d also like to add that the way AA works in the US sounds very foreign to me. In Sweden, if for example a workplace has an overrepresentation (more than 40-60) of a certain sex, they might decide to actively search only for an employee of the underrepresented sex. Otherwise the policy generally is that in the case of equal merits the underrepresented person gets the job.
Still, we have a very segregated workforce in Sweden and could certainly do a lot more.
I think that there are places that it can come into play, even in a system similar to yours. For example, it might shift the line you draw on your short list of how many to invite (add one if close and a minority). or it might cause you to add one or two more people to the short list so that they get wider consideration (and could win some backers) — often the interview process radically changes your impression of candidates, and you could end up with a very different list of 3 to debate, depending on which list of 5 (say) you had interviewed.
of course, you could also make a special effort at recruitment, either through advertising or through the grapevine, to let it be known that your current/next search will be interested in widening its scope or in getting more minority applicants. or advertise in places you hadn’t thought to list before. blah blah.
You make a good point acm, widening the candidate pool would definitely impact the search, and I suspect the compliance office would Ok that in mot cases.
I think that is the system in the UK too.
How is that harmful?
“AA is harmful to whites inasmuch it ‘diversifies’ for the sake of diversity.”
Yeah, I’m not so sure about that either. I think Whites can be helped by diversity.