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Differentiating Terms

How to differentiate among the terms affirmative action, equal employment opportunity and diversity.

Affirmative Action

First established by the federal government in 1965 through an executive order signed by President Lyndon Johnson, affirmative action was developed as a means to reach the ultimate goal of equal employment opportunity. It consists of special actions in recruitment, hiring and other areas that are designed to eliminate the present effects of past discrimination, such as the under representation of minorities and women, and the employment of veterans and persons with disabilities. The purpose of affirmative action is to achieve equal employment opportunity by making up for past discrimination and overcoming discrimination in the workplace.

Some of the main elements are:

  • Legally mandated
  • Special efforts in recruiting and retaining minorities, women, veterans and individuals with disabilities
  • Eliminates present effects of past discrimination

Equal Employment Opportunity

A system of employment practices within an organization under which individuals are not excluded from any participation, advancement or benefits because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or other factor that cannot lawfully be the basis for employment action; an employment system in which neither intentional nor unintentional discrimination operates.

Some of the main elements are:

  • Legally mandated
  • Focuses on eliminating discriminatory employment and human resource policies and practices
  • Equal access and opportunity — no one excluded from participation


A comprehensive organizational and managerial process for developing an environment that maximizes the potential of all employees by valuing diversity. To be diverse means to be different from one another. Dimensions of diversity include but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience and job classification.

Some of the main elements are:

  • Not legally mandated
  • Broader than ethnicity, race and gender
  • Inclusive of all groups
  • Focuses on developing an environment that maximizes the potential of all employees by valuing diversity interpersonally and institutionally
  • Business necessity given workforce trends


(Source: UCLA