Should Corporates Implement Affirmative Action as a Means of Ensuring Social Justice?
What is Affirmative Action and does it Help or Hinder the Goals of Social Justice?
The United States has a policy of what is known as Affirmative Action on campuses across the country to actualize Social Justice and to empower historically disadvantaged and disaffected communities.
Affirmative Action is a term which indicates how members of certain marginalized groups are given preference over other dominant groups as far as admission to colleges and universities are concerned.
In India, this practice is followed in the Reservation System wherein the law mandates admissions and hiring of members of certain ethnic and racial groups according to set quotas.
While this process of favouring one group over other has its own pros and cons, overall, the consensus among policymakers and the intellectual elite is that it works to a certain extent in encouraging Social Mobility and to actualize the principles of Social Justice.
Indeed, both in the United States and in India, Affirmative Action and Reservations in Campuses and in Government Jobs have been found to correlate with greater participation of members from disadvantaged groups and hence, a means to the end of creating a more diverse and inclusive society with the objective of actualizing social justice goals.
Does Affirmative Action Work in Corporates? Does it Harm Merit and Excellence
So, does Affirmative Action work in Corporates as well? Will this be seen as a genuinely progressive measure or something that impacts the considerations of Merit and Excellence, especially in Corporates which thrive on competition?
Moreover, does Affirmative Action vitiate the Workplace Environment and lead to divisions and groupism?
The answers to these questions depend on who is being favoured and how. In other words, while Wholesale Affirmative Action might not work in Corporates, there is always the element of having Informal Targets for hiring of members from underprivileged groups.
For instance, many Corporates in the US and elsewhere already have specific quotas for hiring members from the LGBTQIA+ community as a means of encouraging them to be mainstreamed.
In addition, many corporates in the United States pledge to be Equal Opportunity Employers wherein they do not discriminate against jobseekers on any ground of race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.
While Equal Opportunity is all about Levelling the Playing Field, Affirmative Action takes it to the next level by placing members of target communities at a higher standing than others so that the chances of them making it to placements are higher than those who are on the starting line.
What the Opponents of Affirmative Action Say and Why the Status Quo Prevails
The main argument against Affirmative Action or Reservations in Corporates is that the very reason for existence of the corporates wherein a Culture of Excellence is sought to be achieved as a means of competitive advantages is lost.
In other words, Affirmative Action distorts the playing field and by favouring some over others, it demoralizes the latter and what more, introduces a sense of disaffection among them.
In addition, Affirmative Action in Corporates can also lead to Power Centres of Groups who vie with each other for dominance and control over the resources.
Apart from this, it can also vitiate the workplace environment as employees begin to identify each other based on racial and ethnic and other categorizations leading to a divided workforce.
It is for these reasons that the Private Sector and Corporates worldwide balk at Affirmative Action and are usually Up In Arms whenever such proposals are made from time to time.
Moreover, in India, there has been a long standing and strong demand for Quotas in the Private Sector that are usually met with an even more Vocal opposition to such measures for the reasons mentioned above.
Therefore, Status Quo exists on this issue despite periodic agitations.
A Middle of the Ground Approach and Some Practical Measures that can be put in Place
Having said that, it is also the case that Corporates have to do their bit for Social Justice and as entities that benefit from the Largesse of the State, they are bound to Give Back to Society.
While we do not argue that they must implement Affirmative Action, there are a number of measures that they can put in place to actualize the principles and the goals of Social Justice.
For instance, they can provide Training and Skill Development courses to members from disadvantaged groups so that Social Equity goals are met.
In addition, they can have Informal Targets for hiring from specific underprivileged groups without affecting the overall balance of merit and excellence by placing them in specific roles and jobs.
Moreover, there are some reservations based on Local Candidate hiring in many Indian Corporates in some states that is mandated by the law.
So, they can extend this policy to the broader underprivileged groups as well. Apart from this, Infosys and HCL also have a program wherein Catch Them Young measures are implemented that target School Children and Secondary School Adolescents and Teenagers and provide them with Scholarships and Assistance to excel in their chosen courses and employment ready.
Finding Common Ground
Last, the debate over whether Affirmative Action works in Corporates would continue for the foreseeable future and given the stakes involved, unlikely to reach any definitive conclusion.
Moreover, with such vocal proponents and opponents who are equally determined, sane and rational proposals that meet the common ground are also shouted down.
Therefore, we suggest that a more informed debate takes place and all the stakeholders work towards the larger goals of Social Justice without dragging in other considerations.
To conclude, sooner or later, there are bound to be agitations on this issue and it is better to pre-empt them now.
Authorship/Referencing - About the Author(s)
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