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The False Promise of Meritocracy

While the focus of this research investigates the American value of meritocracy, the concept is one that is frequently discussed by leadership teams across the world.

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Summary

While the focus of this research investigates the American value of meritocracy, the concept is one that is frequently discussed by leadership teams across the world. The dictionary definition of a meritocracy is "a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement" and that resonates with most companies. What Castilla has found in his research, however, is that a company that highlights its commitment to meritocracy is more likely to fall short of that ideal. First of all, if you believe the company offers a level playing field, interventions and diversity programming are perceived as "reverse discrimination." Support for diversity efforts to address systemic inequities is lower in these cultures.

Secondly, the emphasis on a core value of meritocracy can actually trigger bias. A company's stated commitment to meritocracy makes people think they are actually making correct evaluations and behaving fairly. When individuals believe it is the company's responsibility to ensure fairness, they are less likely to hold themselves personally accountable, which can unleash rather than mitigate bias. 

Castilla shows how transparency with data and accountability for outcomes is the key to monitoring decisions for patterns of inequities. Then the gaps can be identified and can even disappear.