Affirmative Action in Employment Essay

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There was a time in American history where the imbalance of power in society was blatant; a time where white men enjoyed preferential treatment in society over women and minority groups (black, immigrants).

 Women and minorities suffer the most discrimination in the workplace until the birth of the civil rights movement in the United States. One fruit of such movement was the creation of President’s Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, which institutionalized the affirmative action in business establishments in 1961 (as cited in Shaw & Barry, 2007, p.461).

Affirmative action “ensures that applicants are employed without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin (as cited in Shaw & Barry, 2007, p.461).” In compliance, companies made equal-employment policies and used quotas in hiring African-Americans and women. Consequently, this has significantly diminished gender and racial discrimination in employment and has leveled the playing field.

Despite this, lawsuits were filed against institutions that have implemented equality programs, on the basis of reverse discriminations among white males. In line with this accusation, a question arises: is affirmative action justifiable?

In a Utilitarian viewpoint, reverse discrimination would not matter because it is primarily concern in the welfare of the many – in this case, the women and the minorities. Utilitarian only considers the consequence of the action and not the action itself.

“If the consequences are good, then the action is right; if they are bad, the action is wrong (as cited in Shaw & Barry, 2007, p.58).” It makes perfect sense then that it would favor affirmative actions over the complaints of white males, since the happiness of the greater public (the government, the minorities and women) is at stake.

Furthermore, evidence demonstrates that reverse discrimination is quite rare. For example, of the 91,000 employment discrimination cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, less than 2 percent are reverse discrimination cases (Grapes, 2000).

However, the strict focus of the Utilitarian theory on the consequence of the action, regardless of the immorality of the action, is questionable. As a famous maxim goes, the end does not justify the means.

That leads one to consider Kant’s theory of Universal Acceptability to decide if affirmative action is justifiable. This theory examines the action and not the consequences of the action. “Kant held that only when we act from duty does our action have moral worth (as cited in Shaw & Barry, 2007, p.75).”

Through people’s own act of will, they make the law and since people are all rational beings, if the law applies to one, then it can apply to all. In essence, when making decisions, one has to put oneself into other people’s situation and see if one wants to be treated the same way other people are being treated.

On one hand, affirmative action itself is justified because it wishes to open the door of opportunities to those who have been oppressed for so long.

On the other, certain ways of implementing it such as assigning quotas to schools and businesses, and assigning preferences over women and minorities even unqualified for promotions or college admissions, are actually promoting inequality rather than equality, and are therefore, illegal as cited by several Supreme Court cases (as cited in Shaw & Barry, 2007, p.462).

Another hybrid theory, Rule Utilitarianism, supports Kant’s Universal Acceptability theory and the Utilitarian theory of maximizing happiness. Unlike the Utilitarian theory, individual actions are of little importance here compared to the adoption of moral principles that guide individual actions.

Rule Utilitarianism believes that “more happiness will come from instilling in people a pluralistic moral code…an action is not necessarily wrong if it fails to maximize happiness. It is wrong only if it conflicts with the ideal moral code (as cited in Shaw & Barry, 2007, p.76).”

In seeking to understand the best possible way to implement equality in employment it is important to appreciate the beauty of affirmative action in the workplace, in the academe and in many social institutions where discrimination may occur.

It serves as a moral guide for companies to instill diversity and uphold individual rights. It is equally important to develop ways that maximize happiness and utility of this practice so that in the long run the issue on discrimination and its injustices would no longer be important because moral codes would have been in place.


Shaw, W. H., & Barry V. (2007). Moral issues in business. (10th ed.). CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co.
Shelton, H.O. (2000). Affirmative Action.  “Society Needs Affirmative Action.” At Issue: Affirmative Action. Ed. Bryan J. Grapes. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. August 2004. 30 March 2008. <>.

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