Edited by Marc Eastmure
Occupational inequality has always been a large issue in the workforce: those born into social or economic advantage often have better access to education, resulting in better employment outcomes. This leads to structural disenfranchisement, limiting the potential of these groups to reach social parity with the more advantaged.
As a result, policies of ‘affirmative action’ have been enacted to help those with marginalised race, gender, sexuality, and religious identities. Affirmative action is the promotion of education and employment to groups that are known to have previously suffered discrimination through (what the Australian Human Rights Commission calls) 'positive discrimination' policy.
Aside from these external programmes, the trend towards affirmative action has also affected internal processes. According to the Global Recruiting Trends report, 85% of Australian talent-acquiring leaders and hiring managers say that diversity is the top trend affecting how they hire, as well as the ASX urging to hit a 40% target for women on boards by 2022. This change has not been limited to solely the private sector, with Labor pledging to increase female membership of parliament to 50% by 2025.
Policies of affirmative action have been codified in our anti-discrimination laws. Examples can be seen in the Sex Discrimination Act, which specifically allows for ‘positive discrimination’ that improves ‘equality of opportunity for people based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, relationship status, pregnancy, or potential pregnancy status or family responsibilities’.
However, these programmes have not come without controversy, and pose questions about the nature of what constitutes equality. Notably, Harvard Law School has come under scrutiny and legal action regarding its admission policies: allegations of racial bias were posed when it was found that Asian-Americans made up merely 19% of admitted students, despite greater academic performance when compared to their peers. This bias is extremely statistically significant: Economist Peter Arcidiacono, employed as part of the litigation against Harvard, found that male Asian-Americans with qualifications to satisfy a 25% chance of admission would have a 36% chance if Caucasian, 77% chance if Hispanic, and 95% chance if African-American.
Is affirmative action effective in combatting structural inequality against marginalised groups?
The Conversation, 'Colleges need affirmative action - but it can be expanded'
ABC News, ‘Point/Counterpoint: Affirmative Action Benefits Everyone’; The Conversation, ‘How Much Diversity Can The US Constitution Stand?’.
Diversity Council Australia, ‘Annual Report 2017’
The Atlantic, 'The Painful Truth About Affirmative Action'; The Daily Intelligencer, 'Jordan Peterson Does Not Support ‘Equality of Opportunity’'
Yahoo News, 'Affirmative action rubbish' or just squaring up: Army's push to recruit only women sparks debate'; The New Republic, 'Affirmative, Sir! (And Ma'am!): The U.S. military needs affirmative action now more than ever'.
The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘A License To Discriminate’
The Washington Post, ‘Affirmative Action Based On Income’