Present efforts to repeal affirmative action are based on several
general misconceptions. One is that our society, having reached a point of
true equality, no longer needs programs that help government recruit and
hire qualified women, people of color, and persons with disabilities.
Unfortunately, there is abundant evidence -- from Census Bureau data and
academic studies, to news accounts and everyday experiences -- that we
still have a long way to go to achieve equality of opportunity for all
Another misconception is that affirmative action is based on quotas,
and that, as a result, the government is hiring unqualified candidates.
This view fundamentally misrepresents the reality of affirmative action in
the City of Seattle. The City's affirmative action program does not
establish numerical quotas for hiring decisions, nor does it result in the
hiring of unqualified candidates on the basis of gender or race.
What the City of Seattle's affirmative action program does is very
simple: first, it gives City managers and personnel officers a snapshot of
the labor market, so that they are aware of the availability rates for
different groups for a given job classification. Through these availability
rates, the City can determine whether or not women, people of color, or
persons with disabilities are underrepresented in a given job
classification within the work force; second, the City's affirmative action
program encourages managers and personnel officers to make special outreach
efforts into groups and communities that are underrepresented in our work
force, in order to increase the number of qualified candidates in the
potential hiring pool;
Third, the City's affirmative action program directs that when there
are two fully qualified candidates for a given position, preference should
be given to the candidate that will make our work force more reflective of
the labor pool and the broader community.
Still another misconception is that affirmative action fosters
"reverse discrimination" by giving minority candidates an unfair
advantage over white candidates. However, a recent statewide study of
affirmative action practices concluded that "whites are the primary
beneficiaries of affirmative action programs affecting hiring -- this
includes large numbers of white men as well as white women."
It is also important to note that once the work force of a certain
job classification within a particular City department reaches the point
where it reflects the diversity of the available labor pool, affirmative
action efforts are terminated for those job classifications. Affirmative
action is only utilized for job classifications where women, people of
color, and persons with disabilities are underrepresented within the work
This overall approach has served Seattle well. It has provided a
systematic framework that has opened employment opportunities to qualified
individuals who happen to be members of groups that have experienced long-
standing and persistent discrimination. A review of the City's work force
profiles since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly illustrates the
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