Voluntarism seldom works in isolation where it is not supported by some form of regulatory enforcement. Codes of practice on disability and age discrimination clearly highlight this. In the former the codes are statutory and can be used in proceedings under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, in the later the codes are non-statutory. Employers admitted the voluntary codes of practice were ineffective, as none of them had taken measures to combat age discrimination despite acknowledging it's a major problem. Codes on disability were praised by employers because of their practical recommendations which, were backed by the force of law.
Similarly, in the 1960's voluntary attempts to encourage 40 organisations in the UK, to change racial discriminatory practices failed, as there was no real pressure to change entrenched managerial practices. However, some organisations in the UK have initiated their own voluntary affirmative action schemes that have been very successful. For example, the Halifax Plc's 'Fairs Fair Programme'34 and a similar initiative by the Cabinet, Foreign, and Commonwealth Offices'. The Halifax's scheme has increased the percentage of female senior managers from 7% in 1990 to 26% in 1999.
Female middle manager also increased from 25% to 42% during the same period. 35 The Cabinet Office raised its proportion of women members of public bodies from less than a quarter (23%) in 1997, to more than a third (38%) in 1998. The proportion of female appointees at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office went up from one quarter to more than a third in the same period. 36 So, if these organisations can initiate their own voluntary schemes, why can't a voluntary-self-regulation scheme work on a national level? Holterman suggests,
"A voluntary approach may work in influencing the behaviour of some organisations, a leading edge company whose markets are among a underrepresented group will readily want to project an equality policy, but not others who for economic or social reasons are resistant to change". 37 This would indeed seem to be the case Halifax is one of the UK's most established providers of financial services. The Halifax has 20 million customers (two in five households), 3. 4 million shareholders, and 37,000 members of staff. Thus, such an organisation will heighten and retain it status by projecting an image regarding its desire for equality for all.
Similarly, government departments are also organisations whose best interests are in portraying themselves to the public as being actively in favour of and taking a significant role in promoting equal opportunity. As Jenkins states, "Such measures enhance political appeal"38 Clearly all UK companies and organisations have no such drive that would make them adhere to a self-regulatory voluntary affirmative action scheme. Thus, it has to be considered whether the only way to break the glass ceiling in the UK, is via a compulsory affirmative action scheme. However, are such schemes effective; are they enforceable and who monitors them?
The first compulsory affirmative action scheme was in the USA, which was initiated in 1961, with the issuing of Executive Order 10925. 39 The current Order 1224640 applies to about 300,000 Federal Contractors employing about 40% of the working population. The contractors are obliged to develop a written affirmative action programme that will identify problems regarding under-representation. The contractor must then institute an action-orientated programme with realistic goals aimed at increasing the representation of equally qualified women and minorities.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programmes (OFCCP) carries out enforcement of the Order. If an employer violates their obligation by failing to implement an affirmative action plan or by simply paying lip service to it. The OFCCP will come to a formal conciliation agreement setting out a time span in which set requirements must be met. Failure to comply after this will result in the OFCCP directly enforcing the Order, or having legal sanctions placed upon the defaulting employer. This would prevent them from being eligible for further contracts as well as forfeiture of payments on current contracts.
The deterrent has proved extremely powerful along with the threat of bad publicity that goes with it. In over 40 years, only 36 employers have suffered the maximum penalty. All the employers interviewed in the US stated that affirmative action was the most influential requirement in their organisation. 41 Without which they would not have been motivated nor have had the will or initiative to increase the representation of women and minorities through their organisation on the scale they had done so.
The strength of this belief can be summed by an Equal Opportunity manager who stated, "We have doubled our representation of women and minorities since adopting affirmative action plans in the 1970's, we are now as diverse as we can be. "42 Actual statistics back up the success of affirmative action in the USA, for example a study by Murrel and Jones reported: "Six million women have received opportunities in employment and education directly because of affirmative action programs. Between 1970 and 1990, the proportion of women physicians doubled from 7.
6% to 16. 9%. From 1972 to 1979 — the years when affirmative action programs were most vigorously enforced — the number of women becoming accountants, lawyers and judges, and school administrators increased substantially. And during the 10-year period between 1985-95 the overall number of professional women grew 125%. 43 The US experience with affirmative action has been influential in several other counties namely, Canada44, where the concept of 'employment equity is used'45, as well as in Australia46 and South Africa47.
Of greatest relevance in the UK (i. e. in Northern Ireland) is the Fair Employment Act 1989, which obliges employers with more than 10 full-time employees to carry out periodic reviews to ensure fair participation of Roman Catholic and Protestants communities. 48 Statistics must be forwarded to the Equal Opportunity Commission for Northern Ireland (EOCNI). 49 If there are significant inequalities, a duty to engage in affirmative action containing appropriate goals and timetables for securing of an improvement is triggered.
Employers in Northern Ireland unanimously agree that fair employment legislation has made a fundamental difference to equal opportunities. As one Equal Opportunity manager states, " The requirement to monitor and prepare action plans to reduce under-representation by a deadline was very important, 'the key driver', and absolutely crucial to make things happen. 50 The House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, also put forward a positive view, reporting that there has been a high level of compliance by employers of their statutory duties which have led to considerable improvements in equality based employment.