Affirmative Action In Effective Diversity/Opportunity Policy

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Affirmative Action in Effective Diversity/Opportunity Policy


Issues of equal employment opportunity (EEO) have been tackled in several ways in Britain. From the late 1960s successful equal pay cases were processed through the industrial relations system and from the 1980s discussion about women's wages widened to encompass a broader understanding of equal pay. Anti-discrimination legislation has been enacted at the federal level and in all states, beginning in 1975. This legislation seeks to redress essentially individual cases of discrimination after they have occurred and covers complaints on grounds such as sex, race, ethnicity, religion, family status, sexuality, disability.

Unique legislation designed to promote EEO was introduced in the 1980s and labelled affirmative action (AA). This legislative scheme grew from recognition of women's increasing workforce participation but unequal position in that workforce. The major piece of legislation, the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 (replaced by Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999) related to women, and this legislation is the focus of the research. In the Britain context, AA "is about achieving equal employment opportunity for women ... and to achieve this goal, the barriers in the workplace which restrict employment and promotion opportunities for women have to be systematically eliminated".

Equal opportunity policies do not operate in a vacuum and they interact with other employment policies. The 1980s and 1990s have seen significant changes in the Britain industrial relations system and these have interacted with EEO policies. What was once a centralised system of conciliation and arbitration that operated via a semi-judicial authority has altered into a heterogeneous and fragmented system that emphasises workplace bargaining. The evolution to a decentralised industrial relations system corresponds to a period of declining trade union membership in which many women workers have limited voice and work in industries that have a high wage cost and do not have an easily measurable output. Despite this, the shift towards enterprise bargaining has been proclaimed as being sympathetic to women workers, notably through the development of "work and family" policies, that is, policies designed to enable employees to meet the demands of paid work and family commitments. In the 1990s government policies focused on giving parents the opportunity to choose between going to work or caring for children. With generous childcare support to low income workers, more recent policies have placed a greater emphasis on access to work (OECD, 324).

In recent years, managing diversity (MD) programs have been promulgated. This paper begins to analyse what these programs can mean in an organisation and what options Britain organisations may choose to adopt. The importance of MD is being promoted in some human resource management (HRM) texts in a way that was never the case for EEO policies. For example, one recent Britain text asserts that the bottom line is that to gain a competitive advantage in the next decade, companies must harness the power of the diverse workforce. These practices are needed, not only to meet employee needs, but to reduce turnover costs and ensure ...
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