How to Earn Your Diversity Cookie Without Doing a Damn Thing

I was browsing through the list of industry employers who will be recruiting at AGU, and came upon one firm which bills itself as an “affirmative action employer”. In the next sentence, the ad explains that this means that they recruit and promote the most qualified candidates “without regard to race, sex, [etc.]…”. I am guessing they added that because they were worried about running off the white male applicants with all this scary language about establishing a level playing field.

When did “affirmative action” cease to be a description for a class of policies, pointed to by countless shrill right-wingers as the very definition of unfairness, and become instead a meaningless way to give a shiny progressive gloss to your thoughtless continuation of the racist, sexist, etc.-ist status quo? My copy of What Words Mean must be out of date.

NB: I’m not making any specific claims here about the obligations any particular consulting companies might have to establish a real affirmative action program. However, any time someone tries to claim that their failure to actively discriminate is the same thing as an active attempt to mitigate the deep-seated effects of centuries of injustice, and they totally deserve a diversity cookie, I will puke on their shoes.

ETA: Huh, this’ll learn me to spout off without Googling – apparently “affirmative action employer” has a legal definition, and is a designation you might want if you are bidding for federal contracts.

Weird. I still think that last sentence is to avoid scaring the white men, though.


  1. BrianR wrote:

    I’m not too familiar with this, but in some cases it’s part of the law to state it on ads. I’m not sure about this specific case, but postings for faculty jobs, for example, typically have that same blurb at the bottom about ‘equal opportunity employer’ … and a lot of the wording is exactly the same from ad to ad, which makes me think it’s part of the law that it has to be there. But, like I said, I don’t really know so i’m just shootin’ from the hip here.

  2. yami wrote:

    The EOE bit is legal boilerplate, but I’ve never seen anyone claim to be an “affirmative action employer” before.

    Though now that you mention it, I can imagine a variety of weird political motivations for creating a legal definition or boilerplate use of “affirmative action” that doesn’t match the common use of the phrase.

  3. yami wrote:

    Huh, this’ll show me to spout off without Googling – apparently “affirmative action employer” has a legal definition in the world of awarding federal government contracts.

    Weird. I still think that last sentence is to avoid scaring the white men, though.

  4. BrianR wrote:

    Possibly. But, it is reasonable to assume that not everybody knows what affirmative action means, thus they feel the need to define it. Especially those who haven’t bee in the States very long.

    You could be right though…

  5. Andrew Alden wrote:

    As I understand it, “affirmative action” has always meant doing extra outreach to underserved populations. Later it took on a connotation of giving applicants from the underserved groups an extra thumb on the scale when all else is equal, as a tie-breaker. Once the job applications are in, though, the evaluation and hiring processes are supposed to be color- and gender-blind. I’m happy to see that the site you linked to bears me out. Nevertheless, I agree that a lot of white men have this unreasonable fear.

  6. Lab Lemming wrote:

    Sorry, Ma’am, but that is all 100% legalese goobledygook language. The meaning is irrelevant, just as long as they can show that they have it written down. Try googling the last sentence like you do with your student’s papers…

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