meritocracy Archives - Diversity & Flexibility Alliance

Action Step – If You Think Your Organization is a Meritocracy, It’s Probably Hurting Your Diversity Efforts…
But Here’s What You Can Do About It
(Part 2)

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center

In Part I of this Action Step, we explored why debunking the notion that most organizations are meritocracies is essential to the success of diversity and inclusion efforts. To support this link, we discussed how evaluative processes such as promotion decisions are often less about objective, merit-based criteria and more influenced by in-group favoritism and other cognitive biases that tend to provide greater access to people in majority groups and less to others. With that background, we offer the following three steps to tackle the notion of meritocracy and open the channels for greater diversity and inclusion among those who advance in your workplace.

First, have a discussion about the factors other than merit that may help or hinder promotion in your organization. This can be an emotionally-charged topic, and could cause some people to feel that their achievements are being attacked. For this reason, it may be best for the discussion to be led from the highest levels of your organization, or to have a more generalized discussion of meritocracy in your industry. Questions that can help stimulate discussion include: What do we mean by “merit”? In determining who gets ahead, what should we prioritize: intelligence or hard-work; book smarts or experience; business development or results; people skills or revenue generation? What, if any, role should where a person was educated or personal connections play in who gets promoted? What is our explanation for why people at the top of our organization/industry are not more diverse? What makes it easier or harder for people to advance in our organization/industry?

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Action Step –
If You Think Your Organization is a Meritocracy, It’s Probably Hurting Your Diversity Efforts, (Part 1)

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center

All of us like to believe that we work in a meritocracy where strong performers are catapulted to the top. What could be more fair? People who do good work and put in long hours are rewarded. People who don’t, well, they end up where they probably should be. It’s the American way; it’s the immigrant way; it’s survival of the fittest. It’s an idea that is fundamental to business itself. Except that it isn’t true…

Most of us do not work in a meritocracy. Our misguided belief that we do, however, prevents us from taking the necessary steps to ensure the best performers get ahead and undermines diversity and inclusion efforts.

Why aren’t our workplaces meritocracies? Ability, hard work, and a good character are key ingredients for success in any organization, and the people at the top most likely excelled at all three. But for most, these alone did not get them there, particularly if they’re part of the dominant and/or majority group(s) in an organization. The people who have reached the top likely were assisted by in-group favoritism which causes us to perceive achievements of people in our own group as the result of superior innate qualities. On the flip side, the achievements of people outside of our group are viewed as the result of luck or external circumstances, and they likely benefited from not having the same obstacles others have faced…

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