People who are interested in the question of “What is affirmative action?” should refer specifically to the legislative history of the United States, in which affirmative action was first conceived and implemented as a means of reversing the effects of systemic discrimination in the educational and employment arenas with respect to members of groups deemed to be underprivileged.
In this regard, affirmative action has generally referred to the Government-imposed requirements for the greater numbers of hires from underrepresented groups, such as women and ethnic minority groups.
In order to define affirmative action and understand it most fully, it should be noted that programs can vary in their requirements and degree of strictness according to the relationship of a desired organization for entry to the Federal Government. In this way, contractors with a relationship to the Government may have to carry out affirmative action precepts more fully than those strictly in the private sector, though such will not necessarily be the case.
The first individual to define affirmative action was President John F. Kennedy, in the form of his Executive Order 10925. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, then made affirmative action the subject of Executive Order 11246, which pertained specifically to Federal contractors. At this point, affirmative action was understood as pertaining to country of origin, ethnic identity, and religious creed.
In 1968, the Government chose to define affirmative action to also include gender. Affirmative action can be seen as employment equity, positive discrimination in the UK, and reservation in India.