Often, the terms affirmative action and equal opportunity are used interchangeably. However, the two have distinct and separate meanings. Both are important in the workplace, especially for government agencies and contractors, who are held to a high standard of equity and diversity. Diving into deeper definitions of affirmative action and equal opportunity employment can help your organization better achieve both.


Equal Opportunity Employment



What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action aims to help correct past discrimination by giving more opportunities to groups that have historically been barred from certain educational paths or jobs as a result of their race, gender, religion, disability, etc. 

More than anything, affirmative action is about creating equity. Its goal is to ensure that increased privilege does not give individuals an unfair advantage over others who may deserve a position just as much or more. 

The most common organizations that implement affirmative action plans are government organizations and universities, although any business can create and enforce these plans. Some examples of affirmative action include:

  • Committing to a 50/50 ratio male to female C-suite
  • Reserving 10 spots in an ivy league university specifically for underprivileged students
  • Committing to hiring a certain percentage of staff members with cognitive or physical disabilities

One thing to note when implementing affirmative action plans is that you also need to avoid breaking discrimination laws. You can prevent this by consulting with an expert before executing on a plan.

What is Equal Opportunity Employment?

The idea behind equal opportunity employment is a little simpler than affirmative action. The law states that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex, gender, religious affiliation, disability, color, national origin, or background.

To ensure equal opportunity hiring, it is important for the human resource (HR) department to create resume review and hiring practices that prevent unconscious bias. Blind resume reviews and regular interview training are two great ways to help ensure fair hiring practices.

Equal opportunity employment not only applies to the initial hiring process but includes the internal promotion process, as well. 

How Do the Two Support Each Other for a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan?

All businesses should strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their business practices, for a variety of reasons. First, you are more likely to find and retain qualified candidates when you have a workplace that allows them to feel seen and heard.

Second, your organization is much more likely to thrive when you have employees from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. While affirmative action and equal opportunity employment are different, including both in your DEI plan lays a solid foundation for a stellar workforce.

If you are a government contractor, your DEI plan can also help you secure more and larger contracts. Don’t have a plan in place yet? The Applied Development team can help your organization put together a DEI plan tailored to your specific needs. Contact us online or give us a call at 410.571.4016 today for more information.