What is an affirmative action plan?

An affirmative action plan (AAP) is a written document designed to promote equal employment and career opportunities for minorities. The term “affirmative action” was first coined by President John F. Kennedy in a 1961 executive order. He requested that employers “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Today, affirmative action has transformed, encompassing affirmative action programs that target underrepresented groups in the workplace. AAPs use company data from previous years to determine which underrepresented groups to recruit, hire, and support. 

Organizations that engage in business with the federal government and qualify for the government’s AAP criteria must have a written plan. Other companies which aren’t required to have a plan can voluntarily develop an AAP according to government guidelines

Why should HR leaders care about an affirmative action plan?

HR leaders must be familiar with the AAP laws. Failing to comply with these laws can result in significant penalties. For some organizations, an AAP is essential to their identity and values and will impact their recruitment, hiring, and employment policies. 

What can HR leaders do to implement an affirmative action plan?

HR leaders can incorporate the following practices to institute an effective affirmative action plan:

  • Tailor the program. The AAP program should align with a company’s organizational structure, practices, and policies. HR leaders can develop a plan that includes a mission statement, a narrative that explains the ideologies and practices, and a statistical component that provides workforce data and analysis.
  • Become familiar with the legalities surrounding affirmative action. HR leaders must be aware of the complexity of AAP regulations. Understanding how to implement it in a way that fulfills government requirements is essential. Hiring an AAP specialist can ensure that the company institutes an up-to-date policy that covers all the bases. 
  • Collaborate with managers. HR leaders should cooperate with managers to ensure that they understand the policy. Moreover, HR can benefit from valuable manager feedback regarding identifying problem areas, finding solutions, and implementing an internal auditing program. Maintaining this two-way communication can support an effective program that reflects fairness and maintains a merit-based employment system. 
  • Maintain consistency and transparency. Whichever plan a company implements, it should reflect equal opportunities for all individuals, no matter their religious beliefs, race, origin, or lifestyle. Whether in recruitment, hiring, or workplace conduct, organizations should prioritize fair treatment of candidates and employees. 

How can an affirmative action plan improve company culture?

Building a comprehensive AAP plan can promote a company culture composed of individuals who reflect a populations’ diverse demographics. An affirmative action plan that genuinely echoes President Kennedy’s 1961 executive order and Reverend Martin Luther King’s dream that people won’t be “judged by the color of their skin but by their own character” can surely facilitate a company culture that promotes equal opportunities for all.