In Search of Meritocracy

I am going to start this article as unpolitically-correctly as possible, but I challenge you to read it to the end and see if you still disagree with me.

When it comes to work I don’t believe in minority rights, nor do I believe in feminist agendas or staff quotas.  I do not see race, religion or disability nor do I see sexual orientation.

I see people.

The fact is that when we compartmentalise people we end up creating an us and them agenda, however noble our motivations may be.  What really matters is the person’s ability to do the job, nothing more and nothing less.  This is the bottom line.

In other words what I am searching for is that ever so elusive thing known as meritocracy; or put simply people get on (or don’t) at work because of their qualifications, knowledge and experience.  When recruiting or promoting it is for the good of a company to have the best person in that position they are hiring for and everything else is irrelevant.  The best person for the job can be defined as a correct blend of competence, experience, soft skills and ambition.

It is patronising to – let’s go with stereotype here – give a woman a job to make up a quota or to make the boardroom seem more balanced.  They know she is there to make up the numbers and she knows that it is highly unlikely that she is there because she deserves it on an equal footing.  She may be the best woman for the job, but if being a woman was the key qualifying criteria, this shows nothing more than blatant disrespect that in my view is counterproductive.

Furthermore if an organisation is that skewed towards male hegemony, offering a woman a token position to fulfil their need to appear as an equal opportunities employer is not going to make any difference.

I can make similar arguments about any other marginalised or minority group and while I accede to the points many of these people raise, quotas and pushing a minority agenda is not the solution.  I will also further agree that there is a need for greater tolerance and understanding in society as a whole and not just in the workplace, but forming (often militantly minded) groups has the habit of provoking even greater hostility from the intolerant and hateful.

This is consistent with meritocracy because if a gay employee is experiencing any kind of discrimination it is wrong.  However, meritocracy argues that sexuality is irrelevant in the workplace and assuming ‘ze’ [1] is a competent employee it is the intolerant who should be reprimanded or even sacked.

‘Mobbing’ – I hate that word – just call it bullying – has many similar characteristics and in each case the hostile party should be shown the door.   There is no difference.

The solution is somehow elusive.  We must ensure recruitment practices focus only on merit, and not the agenda of recruiting individuals with all of their pre-formed opinions and expectations.  One way of doing this is to widen the decision making body who initially shortlists and then interviews the candidate.  This same body can also make a shortlist based on a limited CV that has had all of its personal biographical data removed; name (some names can be indicative of age too). DOB, gender etc.  This limited CV then presents competences, knowledge and experience as their primary indicators.  Finally if employers (and many do) can create some kind of empirical scoring system then a successful job interview will come down to a points total.

That is meritocracy in action.

Ultimately employers will recruit who they want and this is even more so in smaller companies that have less resources.  If they want a pretty girl they will take her on irrelevant of her competences or if they want a young male manager that is what they will take even if a better qualified woman applies for the same job.  Sadly there is very little anyone can do about this other than appeal to the employer’s integrity.

Decency and humanity demand that merit and merit alone is how we get on in the workplace.

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Notes

[1] In recent years the definition of gender has moved beyond tradition male, female and neuter classifications and pronouns such as he/she/it are no longer sufficient and an attempt to resolve this has come with the introduction of the word ‘ze’ (which rhymes with he and she) has been suggested as a cover all for gender pronouns.