Affirmative Action in Seattle 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 social groups. 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 force.
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 dramatic and positive impact affirmative action has had on providing equal opportunities for more women, people of color, and persons with disabilities. For example, in 1970, white workers represented an overwhelming 92.1 percent of the City’s overall work force, while African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans combined represented only 7.9 percent of all City employees. By 1980, the percentage of ethnic minority workers in the City work force had risen to 20.1 percent, and by June, 1994, the percentage of people of color in the City work force reached 31.6 percent.
Moreover, during the past five years, the percentage of top City officials and administrators has increased for all minority groups. The representation of top officials and administrators who are African American has more than doubled over the past five years alone, rising from 8.2 percent to 16.6 percent. The representation of women among top officials and administrators has risen by roughly 30 percent, from 28.2 percent to 36.3 percent. Finally, the City has exceeded its procurement utilization target for direct voucher and blanket contracts for Minority owned Business Enterprises (MBE).The City is currently achieving 5.58 percent for MBE contracts, well above the 5 percent target. As a result of these accomplishments, the City of Seattle has been recognized as a national leader and model in affirmative action, Equal Employment Opportunity, and diversity.
Most recently, in March, 1995, the City’s Cultural Diversity Program received the City Cultural Diversity Award from the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. Despite these very positive accomplishments, there is still much to be done. In certain job classifications, and for certain demographic groups, City employment does not yet fully represent the diversity of the community and the local labor pool. Indeed, women, people of color, and persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented within the City work force, and Women owned Business Enterprises (WBE) currently receive only 4.47 percent of direct vouchers and blanket contracts, far below the 12 percent target. For this reason, we must continue to use affirmative action programs as a means towards inclusion, eroding the very real barriers of bias that continue to block many Seattle residents from reaching their full potential. Affirmative action stands as a powerful symbol of our firm commitment to equal opportunity for all.
It also affirms the City’s commitment to respect and value the many talents, skills, and unique perspectives of the community’s diverse population. In today’s society, there are two ways for a person to be included as being accepted or tolerated. But the reasons that AFFIRMATIVE ACTION uses are too narrow in their focus and only hurt those which it tries to help. Society needs to rid the problem not increase the effects.
For example, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION simply makes up for past losses. The diversity of problems and necessary reimbursements are too much for an American society to try to take on at a time that the deficit is at an all time high. One more addition to the fire is just too much. Since the passage of 1994 additions to the Civil Liberties Act, all that the American society has been concerned with is the discrimination.
The problem that all Americans are ignoring, is the blatant fact that every issue in favor of AFFIRMATIVE ACTION is based on a pat experience generally not experienced by the person crying for assistance. The only good that comes with AFFIRMATIVE ACTION is the good it has served, and now it has overstayed its welcome.