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The term preferential treatment refers to forms of recruitment, appointment, hiring, and promotion that give preference to (members of) groups previously or presently affected by discrimination.

Preferential treatment is often called “affirmative action.” But whether the two terms are synonymous will depend on the narrowness or broadness of the definitions used.

The forms of discrimination that lead to policies of preferential treatment need not be intentional or rooted in racist or sexist attitudes. Discrimination is sometimes unintentional and connected to practices that have discriminatory effects. Hiring by personal friendships and word of mouth are common instances, as are some seniority systems. Advertising and interviewing only in certain geographical regions or at certain colleges may have the effect of excluding minorities from consideration for jobs. Even bias-free individuals ...

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