Is meritocracy a bad word?

'Companies need robust systems in place to avoid conscious and unconscious biases'

Is meritocracy a bad word?

The idea that “If you work hard enough, you will succeed” has long been the fundamental basis of work — but amongst progressive workplaces, merit may slowly becoming a taboo word.

Why? Another word: bias.

“Hiring on skills and experience is an everyday practice, but companies also need robust systems in place to avoid conscious and unconscious biases during the recruitment process,” said Richard Kennedy, country leader NZ at Randstad.

There’s a myriad of data backing up the move from merit to more diverse workforces being a good one for organisations. International research from McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group has linked diversity to improved financial performance and better business results overall but, more importantly, is the underlying social focus to engage with organisations that value DEI.

“Equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) are part of an important conversation within New Zealand workplaces,” said Kennedy.

“This growing focus is being driven by people wanting to work in and engage with companies that better reflect themselves and the rich diversity of the communities we live and work in.”

Many organizations don’t recognise the systems that have been put in place for centuries to keep marginalised people out of STEM, says one expert.

Despite the growing data, meritocracy still has its champions, those that fight against gender quotas and the DEI paradox claiming that gender and ethnicity quotas lead to self-doubt, and gaslighting among employees.

In some companies, the challenge can be conscious or unconscious resistance from employees to change, said Kennedy, and to avoid perceived tokenism or looking like you’re at the mercy of meeting regulatory or reporting requirements, it’s important that organisations create authentic DEI programs.

“Creating more purposeful ED&I programs is so important when thinking about achieving successful business outcomes. However, any actions that businesses take also need to be authentic, aligned with company values, and have full leadership buy-in. Otherwise, this may hinder an organisation’s effort to improve diversity in its workforce and provide candidates from all backgrounds an equal opportunity to secure a job. For example, making assumptions about people based on name or age can be detrimental, and, not just to those applying for jobs.”

A celebrated CEO discusses the myth of the meritocracy and how men can use their positions in power to ameliorate it.

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