Affirmative Action

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Often in democratic societies exclusion and discrimination are apparent and sometimes even increasing. In example, already privileged minorities feel empowered for social action. In contrast to a well planned diversity-conscious and participatory training, the world “outside” face a diversity dilemma: the more different interests exist in a society the less feasible a consensus or an equitable distribution of resources is. When dispute and even discrimination are logical – how diversity may persist or better representation of minority be enforced?

We Need Positive Regulations

When structural conflicts or imbalance increase, we need regulation. By establishing rules we ensure that in general people find ways to discuss their needs and interests. And more specifically, we ensure that disadvantaged people are better equipped to become involved and to use their rights to participate. When we think about the kind of rules we might introduce, we can distinguish between two types.

The first are restrictions, which often apply to privileged people: Don’t interrupt anyone. Don’t shout. Let everyone contribute. Do not treat anyone unfairly.

In contrast, the other type of regulations gives people privileges. These regulations provide support for those people who usually experience (structural) discrimination. Such measures are called affirmative action, positive action, or positive discrimination.


How does that look in practice? In some countries laws guarantee that a certain percentage of important board positions must be filled by females. If you are a female manager in such an enterprise (for example in Norway), then affirmative action increases your chances of attaining a top-level position. In other countries there are specific stipendia for students from minority groups. In many governments, both local and national, there are rules that guarantee that parties are allotted speech time proportional to their importance.[1]

Affirmative Action

"Affirmative action means positive steps taken to increase the representation of any kind of minorities in areas of employment, education, and culture from which they have been historically excluded."[2]

The nature of affirmative action policies varies from region to region. Some countries, such as India, use a quota system, whereby a certain percentage of jobs or school vacancies must be set aside for members of a certain group. In some other regions, specific quotas do not exist; instead, members of minorities are given preference in selection processes.

What you might do

Which set of rules and procedures could be introduced into your training or lesson to ensure more equality in our society? In example,

  • Minority rights in an assembly
  • Female quota on boards or in decision bodies
  • Scholarships quotas for minorities
  • Specific supporting activities such as trainings or mentoring
  • Gender-equal lists of speakers in a discussion
  • Codifications for the use of language or for behavior
  • Selection criteria for positions that are neutral or include skills of minorities or marginalized groups
  • Working conditions that allow everyone to get involved


  1. N. Zimmermann, H. Fahrun, E. Skowron (Ed.): Diversity Dynamics: Activating the Potential of Diversity in Trainings; Berlin 2014; MitOst; ISBN 978-3-944012-02-5
  2. After:

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email:



Diversity Dynamics: Activating the Potential of Diversity in Trainings

MitOst Editionen 2015: Read