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Putting an equal employment opportunity plan into action

In the United States, affirmative action is one of the most misunderstood — and complex — HR issues facing employers. In some cases, it's adequate to build a diverse staff that reflects the community you serve. If your nonprofit hopes to receive state or federal grants, however, you may be required to create a written affirmative action plan.

What is an affirmative action plan?

Affirmative action is designed to fight discrimination affirmatively — that is, to encourage positive actions that address the consequences of past and current discrimination. Whether due to a grant requirement or simply a desire to have a diverse workforce, an affirmative action plan details the ways in which your organization will attempt to proactively recruit and promote underrepresented groups (defined in this context as racial minorities, women, veterans and people with disabilities).

An affirmative action plan should be proactive, encouraging the active and deliberate pursuit of a diverse workforce. Specific strategies may be directed at factors such as recruitment and promotion, on-the-job mentoring and community outreach.

How to write your affirmative action plan

Affirmative action plans typically adopt the language of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), an official list of rules and regulations published by the U.S. government. This may include:

  • Organizational profile. This profile shows every position in your organization and how each position relates to all the others, much like a traditional organizational chart. It goes one step further, however, by identifying the sex and ethnicity of the person currently holding each position.
  • Job group analysis. Typically done only for larger organizations, this analysis groups jobs across the organization by similarity of responsibilities and salary.
  • Percentage of employees in protected groups. This is the percentage of racial minorities, women, veterans and people with disabilities within the organization, or, for larger nonprofits, within each job group.
  • Availability analysis. In this sense, availability refers to the demographic percentages of protected groups within the organization and in the community at large — with an ultimate goal of organizational staffing that mirrors the demographics of the larger community. This analysis may also identify employees who'd be candidates for mentoring or other efforts to support retention and promotion.
  • Placement goals. This includes tangible recruitment and promotion goals, as well as concrete actions to help achieve these goals.
  • Implementation responsibility. This designation identifies the managers and other leaders responsible for taking specific recruitment and promotion actions.
  • Identification of problem areas. This is simply a list of departments, job groups or teams in which representation of protected groups lags behind the larger community. These problem areas should inform the placement goals.
  • Action-oriented programs. This category identifies the actions to be taken to address the particular problem areas noted above.

Follow-up with an HR audit

Diversity, equity and inclusion issues are vitally important for all organizations — and frequent changes to legislation mean nonprofits must continually keep up. The National Council of Nonprofits offers several excellent resources on nonprofit employment issues, plus more on diversity, equity and inclusion at your nonprofit.

Periodic diversity audits can help your organization stay on track with affirmative action goals. Often, diversity audits are wrapped into broader HR audits on various aspects of human resource practices. Here's an example of an HR audit checklist focused on diversity and equal employment opportunity.

If you outsource HR audits, look for a firm that prioritizes diversity as part of its comprehensive auditing procedures. You might also consider hiring a consultant, such as an attorney experienced in employment law, to avoid the potentially serious consequences of employment or workplace discrimination.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



FindLaw: Affirmative action plans

HRhero: Affirmative action

U.S. Government Publishing Office: Electronic code of federal regulations: Affirmative action programs (2016)

U.S. Department of Labor: Executive order 11246: Equal employment opportunity

U.S. Department of Labor: Affirmative action Affirmative action plans: Are you required to have one? (2001)

Ballotpedia: Affirmative action

National Diversity Council:Discovering diversity profile by Armida Mendez Russell, Frank Wilderson and Amy Tolbert



Baltimore-based writer and educator