Affirmative action policies, when taken seriously, allow all individuals to earn a living, provide for themselves and others, and realize the goals of the Civil Rights Act. The work of compliance professionals is important and necessary for the overall success of any company. Yet many companies treat affirmative action in the workplace as nothing more than a paperwork exercise. Although a lack of prioritization can be detrimental, there are several reasons affirmative action in business often takes a back seat to other concerns.
By its very nature, compliance is a non-revenue function, meaning it’s given the bare minimum in terms of staff and budget. Compliance is also a time-consuming, sometimes expensive, and often frustrating “side gig” for many workers. Because compliance professionals receive limited resources and support, they go for the “low-hanging fruit.” They meet affirmative action technical requirements. They create and submit affirmative action plan documents and equal employment opportunity(EEO) reports. But that’s as far as they get. As a result, nothing changes.
The challenge, then, is to figure out how to bring about a faster evolution of affirmative action principles. An excellent first step is to stop treating compliance programs like set-it-and-forget-it machines. Compliance is an ever-changing ecosystem. Significant policy changes can and do happen regularly. When they come to pass, the whole machine needs to be updated. That’s exhausting and expensive, not to mention unnecessary. It’s also not a good practice when dealing with the inevitable changes that come with affirmative action in the workplace.
Recent Compliance Changes of Note
As a compliance professional, you might already be facing some of the more significant changes that have come about in the 21st century, such as EEO, pay discrimination, and other compliance regulations. If you haven’t yet learned about these changes, you might have trouble figuring out how to make them work for your company.
One big area of continuous change specifically involves the conflicting laws around pay discrimination. Traditionally, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has enforced its requirements under a Title VII framework. The framework makes it difficult for any charges of pay discrimination to carry much weight. The Equal Pay Act approaches pay discrimination differently, making it easier to prove charges. However, the Equal Pay Act gets enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), not the OFCCP.
Despite these regulations, pay inequity and discrimination remain huge issues. Accordingly, many states and municipalities have enacted confusing legislation and mandates. As such, it’s hard for employers to meet compliance expectations.
Let’s say you’re a nationwide federal contractor employer that wants to fill a job in Colorado. You need to post the job in the state job bank. You also need to notify internal candidates of the position. Which internal candidates, though? It’s unclear whether you only need to inform internal candidates located in Colorado or all candidates across the board. Additionally, the word “candidate” is misleading because you’re expected to make the post available to those who might not necessarily be qualified to apply.
Suddenly, your Colorado job posting has taken on the aura of a special project. Remember that compliance machine we talked about? It doesn’t function with special projects. So you spend more time trying to reduce your compliance risk in Colorado. And that doesn’t even touch on what happens when you need to post a job in Illinois, where a patchwork of laws is equally confounding.
The Impact on Compliance Professionals
Not surprisingly, compliance professionals desperately trying to understand how to get rid of discrimination in the workplace end up feeling overwhelmed. They want to make a difference but are tied down by three major concerns:
1. Their compliance budgets keep shrinking.
Compliance budgets keep getting stretched thinner and thinner each year. With a recession looming, those budgets might get cut even more drastically than usual. Businesses of all sizes are slashing operational and departmental budgets wherever they can.
2. They experience mental health burdens.
Compliance professionals often feel overwhelmed by the psychological impact of their work, causing many to leave the field or retire early. In compliance, you’re in the hot seat when anything goes wrong. This causes people to have nightmares and be unhappy in their jobs, ultimately leaving them unable to solve compliance issues when they arise.
3. There is little time and energy left to address policy goals.
Not being able to “work” an affirmative action plan can be disheartening for professionals who want to do more than just print off annual reports. With so many competing regulations and rules, along with the worry regarding getting “dinged” by authorities and agencies, compliance team members often feel like they can’t make progress that will allow them to see the lasting effects of affirmative action in the workplace.
The Silver Lining
These are significant problems. They’re not insurmountable, though. At Biddle, we help our clients figure out how to change the world through compliance, affirmative action, and better policies and procedures. Our consultants concentrate not only on creating affirmative action plans, but also on making sure companies know how to get the most out of those initiatives. We approach compliance with a good balance of idealism, realism, and pragmatism.
To learn more about the ways Biddle can help your affirmative action initiatives, contact us. You have more power over the evolution of affirmative action than you might realize.