Affirmative Action in Seattle


Present efforts to repeal affirmative action are based on several general
misconceptions. One is that our society, having reached a point of true equality,
no longer needs programs that help government recruit and hire qualified women,
people of color, and persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, there is abundant
evidence -- from Census Bureau data and academic studies, to news accounts and
everyday experiences -- that we still have a long way to go to achieve equality
of opportunity for all social groups.

Another misconception is that affirmative action is based on quotas, and
that, as a result, the government is hiring unqualified candidates. This view
fundamentally misrepresents the reality of affirmative action in the City of
Seattle. The City\'s affirmative action program does not establish numerical
quotas for hiring decisions, nor does it result in the hiring of unqualified
candidates on the basis of gender or race.

What the City of Seattle\'s affirmative action program does is very
simple: first, it gives City managers and personnel officers a snapshot of the
labor market, so that they are aware of the availability rates for different
groups for a given job classification. Through these availability rates, the
City can determine whether or not women, people of color, or persons with
disabilities are underrepresented in a given job classification within the work
force; second, the City\'s affirmative action program encourages managers and
personnel officers to make special outreach efforts into groups and communities
that are underrepresented in our work force, in order to increase the number of
qualified candidates in the potential hiring pool;

Third, the City\'s affirmative action program directs that when there are
two fully qualified candidates for a given position, preference should be given
to the candidate that will make our work force more reflective of the labor pool
and the broader community.

Still another misconception is that affirmative action fosters "reverse
discrimination" by giving minority candidates an unfair advantage over white
candidates. However, a recent statewide study of affirmative action practices
concluded that "whites are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action
programs affecting hiring -- this includes large numbers of white men as well as
white women."

It is also important to note that once the work force of a certain job
classification within a particular City department reaches the point where it
reflects the diversity of the available labor pool, affirmative action efforts
are terminated for those job classifications. Affirmative action is only
utilized for job classifications where women, people of color, and persons with
disabilities are underrepresented within the work force.

This overall approach has served Seattle well. It has provided a
systematic framework that has opened employment opportunities to qualified
individuals who happen to be members of groups that have experienced long-
standing and persistent discrimination. A review of the City\'s work force
profiles since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly illustrates the dramatic and
positive impact affirmative action has had on providing equal opportunities for
more women, people of color, and persons with disabilities.

For example, in 1970, white workers represented an overwhelming 92.1
percent of the City\'s overall work force, while African Americans, Asians,
Hispanics, and Native Americans combined represented only 7.9 percent of all
City employees. By 1980, the percentage of ethnic minority workers in the City
work force had risen to 20.1 percent, and by June, 1994, the percentage of
people of color in the City work force reached 31.6 percent.

Moreover, during the past five years, the percentage of top City
officials and administrators has increased for all minority groups. The
representation of top officials and administrators who are African American has
more than doubled over the past five years alone, rising from 8.2 percent to
16.6 percent. The representation of women among top officials and administrators
has risen by roughly 30 percent, from 28.2 percent to 36.3 percent.

Finally, the City has exceeded its procurement utilization target for
direct voucher and blanket contracts for Minority owned Business Enterprises
(MBE).The City is currently achieving 5.58 percent for MBE contracts, well above
the 5 percent target.

As a result of these accomplishments, the City of Seattle has been
recognized as a national leader and model in affirmative action, Equal
Employment Opportunity, and diversity. Most recently, in March, 1995, the City\'s
Cultural Diversity Program received the City Cultural Diversity Award from the
National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

Despite these very positive accomplishments, there is still much to be
done. In certain job classifications, and for certain demographic groups, City
employment does not yet fully represent the diversity of the community and the
local labor pool. Indeed,