Chief Executive Women and the Male Champions of Change share a common goal – a significant and sustainable increase in the representation of women in leadership. We are working together to identify approaches towards this end, put them into practice, and disseminate those that are successful.
We firmly believe that everyone in business should be judged on their merits and not factors such as race or gender. Yet there’s a common barrier that intervenes between the belief in and application of a merit-based system, particularly when it comes to making unbiased decisions about people. To make progress on gender equality and reap the benefits of diversity, it is critical for us to confront the often unintended obstacle that our use of ‘merit’ presents.
The ingredients for merit are both performance and potential. Past performance can be assessed as long as performance benchmarks and outcomes are clear. However, evaluating potential is subjective. In many recruitment and promotion decisions, what adds up to merit for some is invisible or detrimental to others. This allows bias to cloud judgement on key decisions.
Why does this matter? Because adhering to an un-interrogated idea of merit means there is no examination of biases. And, it reinforces the idea that gender inequality is about supply side problems rather than demand. So organisations miss out on the best talent and are fishing in an ever smaller pool of candidates. A pool that fails to reflect the community our organisations serve.
If we continue to define ‘merit’ as people ‘like us’ who have done what we did, we will get more of the same.
In this letter we offer what we have learned about how biases can influence the way merit is understood and applied. We share some of our efforts in this area with a view to delivering something much closer to where we all want to work: a true meritocracy.