Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the March
20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Getting Affirmative Action Plans Right, & Written
It’s hard to imagine a more misunderstood program than
Affirmative Action. It has become a hot-button issue, causing instant
debate on whether a person should be hired because of his merits,
or because of his gender or race or ethnicity. In reality, however,
Affirmative Action, at least as it applies in the workplace is no
draconian program designed to pressure employers into hiring the unfit
or underqualified so that they may achieve some artificial racial
or gender quota.
"An Affirmative Action plan is actually an opportunity for us
to check on ourselves, to ensure that we provide opportunity to all
action services for the Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ).
For 14 years she has drafted hundreds of the complicated plans, and
not only does she know what goes into creating a plan, but she knows
what the government looks for when it conducts random compliance
She sat through her first review just three or four months into her
job, and has helped employers through many over the years.
On Friday, March 22, at 9:30 a.m. Cordasco speaks on "Getting
Down to the Basics of Affirmative Action" at a seminar sponsored
by EANJ and taking place at Caldwell College. Cost: $50. Call
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) oversees
Affirmative Action plans, and Cordasco has never seen an instance
in which the agency shut down — or even fined — a company
for failing to hire enough women, members of minority groups,
or handicapped individuals. "They look for good faith
she says. "That’s the most important thing."
It must be said, however, that the compliance reviews Cordasco is
involved with are of EANJ members, a group that already has shown
a healthy respect for employee issues by signing on as members of
the non-profit, which is focused on human resource administration.
Other companies — particularly those that have not bothered to
draft an Affirmative Action plan — may fare less well. And while
the OFCCP is not out to hassle employers into oblivion, it must be
said that Affirmative Action plans are complicated documents that
can not be casually tossed together.
Cordasco explains the nuts and bolts, and offers this guidance on
preparing an Affirmative Action plan.
which does at least $50,000 worth of business a year with the federal
government, needs an Affirmative Action plan. This business may be
transacted directly — selling airplanes, for example — or
indirectly. A company whose business is making fabric or paint, or
mining ore, or preparing marketing materials needs an Affirmative
Action plan if those goods, raw materials, or services end up in a
product that is sold to the federal government. "Contractors have
the responsibility of informing sub-contractors," says Cordasco.
In addition to these contractors and sub-contractors, all financial
institution need Affirmative Action plans, says Cordasco, adding
do plans for a lot of New Jersey banks."
Action plan is made up largely of tables that enumerate every employee
by job category, job title, gender, and race or ethnicity. There are
also columns for veterans and the handicapped, both of which groups
come under the jurisdiction of the OFCCP. The plans contain narratives
in addition to tables. In the narratives, employers set out goals
for including members of minority groups in each of nine
job categories, and comment on areas where they made progress toward,
or fell short of, goals set in the previous year.
Hiring, promotion, transfer, and termination all are tallied and
"It’s not just about getting minorities and women in,"
Cordasco, "it’s about what you do with them once they are
an Affirmative Action plan is figuring out where applicants for each
position are likely to live. The general rule is that the higher the
position, the farther an individual is likely to travel to fill it.
"Someone isn’t going to drive two hours each way to answer your
phone for $8 an hour," says Cordasco. She points out, however,
that for $200,000 an executive might be willing to make that same
This information is important because it forms the heart of an
Action plan. The basic idea of affirmative action is that the
at any given position should mirror applicants within the recruitment
area who are qualified to fill it. Therefore, if all of an employer’s
janitorial staff lives in Mercer County, and if 43 percent of the
janitors living in Mercer County are women, then 43 percent of the
employer’s janitors should be women. If 10 percent of all the janitors
in the county are Hispanic, then 10 percent of the employer’s janitors
should be Hispanic.
If senior executives are chosen through a national search, and if
12 percent of all senior executives are women, then 12 percent of
the employer’s executives should be women.
These are the goals. The OFCCP considers a number that falls within
20 percent of the goal to be in compliance.
the Affirmative Action plan needs to take into account how many jobs
within each category are filled not by new hires, but rather through
transfer or promotion. If, for example, all of a companies senior
executives are always chosen from within, the demographic data a
uses in compiling its Affirmative Action plan for that job title is
the demographic make-up of the job titles within the company from
which it promotes.
If all senior executives are promoted from middle management, and
32 percent of middle managers are black, then 32 percent of those
promoted into senior management should be black.
does not expect you to hire someone who is not qualified," says
Cordasco. "It is not saying you must hire X number of minorities
or women. It is saying you should hire fairly." An employer who
chooses 10 male nuclear physicists to fill 10 vacant positions when
32 percent of the nuclear physicists in its recruitment area are women
is not automatically in trouble. It has an opportunity to show that
its hires were chosen because of superior experience, for example,
or because no women applied despite outreach efforts.
obvious, this is one of the trickiest questions employers face.
after 30 years (of Affirmative Action plans), it’s still a gray
says Cordasco. The OFCCP, she says, "maintains the definition
is what it always has been — someone who is minimally qualified
and who applies."
Today, with one ad drawing 500 — or even 5,000 responses, the
definition, Cordasco says, "has become a nightmare for many
According to a strict interpretation of OFCCP policy, she says, if
a company so much as looks at a resume, and quickly decides that
person is not in the box," he or she becomes an applicant.
While, in reality, companies have some latitude in determining who
is — or isn’t — an applicant, Cordasco warns that the practice
of considering only those who are called in for interviews applicants
is dangerous. It narrows the definition to a degree the OFCCP would
likely find unacceptable.
plan, employers must list how many applicants for each job title fall
into which categories — gender, race, ethnicity, veteran, and
handicapped. The problem is that a company may never see most of its
applicants, and may not be able to determine gender or ethnicity from
an application or resume. The job is easier when an applicant sits
for an interview, but is still not foolproof. "Employers have
to make a good faith effort," says Cordasco. If an applicant’s
name is Rose, chances are pretty good that she is a woman. If her
last name is Rodriguez, she may be Hispanic.
Asking an applicant for the information would generally yield more
accurate results, but the question needs to be carefully put. Says
Cordasco, applicants must be told that responses to questions on
and ethnicity are entirely voluntary and will be used solely for the
purpose of compiling employment records for compliance purposes. They
must be assured that the information will not be used in making hiring
Some companies mail postcards to applicants requesting the
And some companies include a questionnaire on applications.
two things that come to mind first, affirmative action also looks
at rates of pay. In fact, says Cordasco, pay parity is one of the
first things the OFCCP checks for in an audit. Everyone with a similar
job title should be earning a similar amount of money. If, after
for experience, the OFCCP finds that women or minorities are making
less for doing essentially the same job, the employer will have some
explaining to do.
is important. If a company has a definition of who is an applicant,
or a policy for evaluating middle managers for promotion, or a
for giving notice of possible termination, it needs to apply each
in the same way over time.
Perhaps most important of all, a company must show a good faith effort
to extend opportunities for employment — and advancement —
in all of its job titles to everyone who is qualified. Ways of doing
this, says Cordasco, include advertising jobs in magazines for
students or women engineers or Hispanic healthcare professionals.
Attending job fairs for women and minorities is another positive step
as is contacting groups that promote opportunities for women, specific
ethnic groups, the handicapped, or veterans. Internal programs,
diversity training and continuing education, also are pluses.
from complaints by employees or by spurned job applicants. Most come
about as a result of random selection, making it vital that every
employer have a current plan in place, and be ready to provide back-up
data, including job applications and resumes.
past decade and a half have no problem with affirmative action.
they want to be in compliance," she says. "They want to hire
anyone who can do the job."
Enthusiastic and optimistic no matter what the
current economic downturn is not hurting the work/life movement.
no, not at all," she says. "We just have to be more
The need to accommodate employees’ personal needs in the workplace
is greater than ever, and doing so, she says, does not have to be
an expensive proposition.
She gives lunchtime seminars and vendor shows as examples of low or
no cost events that can add value to employees’ lives while respecting
financially stressed employers’ budgets.
Kaplan is a founder of the Princeton Work/Life Alliance. The
whose members include Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merrill Lynch, holds
its first Work/Life Resource Showcase on Thursday, March 21, at 9
a.m. at Amersham Health at 101 Carnegie Center. The two-hour event
is free. Call 609-243-5563.
The occasion is an opportunity for HR professionals — whether
or not their companies are members of the Princeton Work/Life Alliance
— to meet vendors of employee-enrichment programs. Among the
are health clubs, consultants, theme parks, resource and referral
providers, and massage therapists.
"Massage therapists are big at companies now," says Kaplan.
"They relieve stress."
While stress busting is important, Kaplan says that the two biggest
work/life topics — by a wide margin — are child care and elder
care. The next Princeton Work/Life Alliance meeting takes place on
Wednesday, June 19, at 9 a.m., at Merrill Lynch’s new child care
in Hopewell. Kaplan says members of her group are eager to see the
Child care, of course, has always been an issue at work, or at least
an issue that affects work. Elder care stands to become just as
as greater longevity, combined with more women in the workforce,
in the coming decades, causing Boomer workers to juggle work
with care for elderly parents. Beyond these two big issues, work/life
concerns include fitness, recreation, and the eternal clash between
piles of paper in the office in-box and piles of laundry at home.
Area companies address these concerns with everything from on-site
dry cleaning pick-up, dentists, and health clubs to vouchers for
child care. It is the work/life consultant’s job to tune in to
needs and to suggest new programs to management.
Kaplan, who has been work/life consultant at American Re for
years, is a graduate of Rutgers University (Class of 1993), where
she studied communications. She calls her position "the job of
the decade," pointing out that it is not only the "Sandwich
Generation" — Boomers simultaneously caring for teens and
aging parents — who are driving the work/life movement. She says,
"people just out of college want to know if there is health club
reimbursement, child care, business casual."
The Princeton Work/Life Alliance is a way for area companies to share
information on how they have implemented programs to meet these needs.
And the upcoming showcase is an opportunity for these companies to
find out what services in the community exist to make it easier for
their employees to balance a full work day with at-home
Monday, March 25
On September 11, the Department of Labor evacuated its
three-block-long building in Washington, D.C. "We’re just across
the river from the Pentagon," says
of the department’s central office for assistive services. "We
could see the smoke."
It was a stressful day, full of confusion. The evacuation, says
was "a wake up call." No longer would emergency evacuations
— with all the planning they entail — be of concern only to
offices located on flood plains or in the shadow of a volcano. Now
everyone would have to be ready, and not just for floods, fires, and
hurricane-strength winds. "It could be chemicals," she says.
"You might have to turn off the air circulators and forbid
Fearon speaks on Monday, March 25, at 9 a.m. on "Safety Measures
for Personnel Evacuations" at a meeting of the New Jersey
with Disabilities Coalition at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Piscataway.
Cost: $300. Call 609-984-3379. While the talk will highlight the
of evacuating disabled employees, it will address general emergency
evacuation procedures, and some equipment now available to facilitate
evacuation when elevators are not working.
Fearon says she has been knowledgeable about disabilities all of her
life. "My brother is blind," she says, "and many members
of my extended family live with disabilities." Her parents
themselves to raising her brother so that "he was never left out
of anything." A banker and musician, her brother followed a family
tradition in graduating from Syracuse University. Raised in upstate
New York near Syracuse, Fearon herself headed south for college,
from Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, in 1976.
During her college years, Fearon did volunteer work in a school for
the deaf in Staunton. She learned sign language, and, after
was offered a job there. In subsequent years, she earned master’s
degrees in counseling and human services and in deaf education. After
teaching, working as a counselor, and interpreting sign language,
Fearon accepted a job at the Department of Labor as an interpreter.
She found the department did not have a resource center for its
employees, and wrote a proposal suggesting that one be created. It
was, and she became its director.
Fearon points out that the stereotype of a disabled person as someone
who has a permanent condition falls short — particularly in terms
of thinking of an evacuation plan. The disabled could include the
intern who broke his leg playing basketball, the accountant recovering
from knee surgery, or, says Fearon, with just a hint of mischief,
"the excessively chronologically gifted."
Here are some considerations for safely evacuating everyone —
disabled or not.
There may be no employees not able to sprint down stairs today, but
a month from now there could be several. We’re all just one event
away from being disabled, Fearon points out. An operation or two,
a problem pregnancy, and a sports injury could significantly increase
even a small company’s roster of people needing assistance in an
sign in and out, put someone in charge of taking the sign in sheets
out with them in case of an evacuation. This could save not only
but also the lives of rescue workers.
the park across the street, for example. Make sure everyone knows
about the assembly place, but don’t hesitate to change it. This is
another to schedule review of the plan. The park may close for
or be chosen as a parade staging route. Or the road between your
and the park may be torn up in a big construction project.
for some — or all — of your employees to get home. Plan in
advance for temporary accommodations, perhaps at an auditorium or
school. And think ahead about how employees would get there,
if mass transit were unavailable.
form naturally at work, and employees tend to watch out for one
Nevertheless, it can be a good idea to ask for one volunteer per floor
or section to be a zone monitor, responsible for seeing who needs
help, providing last minute instructions, and keeping track of who
has left the building.
in a building it is a good idea to collect phone numbers of a contact
from each. "Carry laminated cards" with the numbers, Fearon
suggests. This, too, is a way to check on who has gotten out of the
we must be prepared for all kinds of emergencies. So, in addition
to making evacuation plans, make plans for situations during which
employees would need to stay inside. How would they be informed? Who
would make sure no one left? Who would make decisions on whether to
open windows or shut down air circulation systems? How would employees
be updated on the situation?
at most offices. The result, says Fearon, is that "it became
clear that we could do so much better."
Corrections or additions?
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