Can meritocracy survive in the world’s current political climate? This is the question I have been pondering for weeks as I have been thinking about my future going into the workplace one day.
Some say meritocracy is the only way to have a successful business environment, others say meritocracy is the enemy.
After looking at both sides of the argument, I have come to understand one main truth in all of this — whether meritocracy is a good thing or not, it cannot coexist with our current political climate.
The concept of a true meritocracy is good — people earn their way in business strictly by their performance and qualifications, getting exactly what they deserve and have earned. A pretty simple idea, and one that I think most people can agree is a fair way to run a business. However, there are many problems with meritocracy in practice that ultimately make it impossible to actually implement in the workplace.
Meritocracy has proven to be an ideal, not a reality.
The biggest problem with meritocracy is it assumes people do not have bias, which is something that everyone has, whether or not it’s conscious. In fact, implicit biases are some of the most dangerous in the present day, and the ones that currently exist the most in businesses and companies around the world.
The principles of meritocracy assume that an employer will not have bias towards any particular person and will only look at their expertise when deciding if a person receives a job. This is simply not the case.
Whether one has a large scale bias — only wanting to hire white, cis-gender, heterosexual males — or one has a smaller scale bias — such as judging a person by the college they went to — the bias is still there, and it will play a role in making these types of decisions in business.
Explicit bias has been around for decades, and that fact emphasizes how even when many people believed meritocracy in its purest form existed in the workplace, it never really did, seeing as workplaces actively excluded or discriminated against minorities.
People of other races, LGBTQ+ community members, women and many other groups were either not allowed in the workplace for many years — or if they were, they experienced a great deal of prejudice. This proves that meritocracy has never existed, even though some may have tricked themselves into believing it did. This is even more dangerous, as it allows prejudiced thinking to come into the workplace in the present day under the guise of meritocracy.
The reality is that most businesses have never had a meritocracy, and it is significantly more important to right the wrongs of years of a lack of meritocracy than to try to implement an ideal meritocracy now.
I am not saying give handouts to people, but instead that people need to feel heard, be respected, and to know that their place in the social, economic or racial hierarchy will not affect their ability to rise up in a business.
Unfortunately, even with our current social climate aiming to solve the past lack of diversity issue, these problems still exist in business. Not only can they not be solved with a meritocracy, but these problems will actually worsen under this system due to centuries of practice in racism, sexism, ableism, etc. under the façade of meritocracy.
If meritocracy were in its ideal form, where it stayed true to the actual definition, then it would definitely be a possibility to have a work environment that is both a meritocracy and a diverse, inclusive environment. However, due to how meritocracy has been put into practice — combined, and eventually merged, with practices of discrimination — it is not feasible to expect a meritocracy to function in an environment where inclusion and diversity exist.
Implicit biases are still within businesses, and it is the duty of our businesses to actively combat these biases by working to give opportunities to those who would not have had them in the recent past — not because they did not deserve them, but because biases took these opportunities away.
The idea of meritocracy is a good one, but frankly, it is as much of an ideal as the principles of communism are an ideal.
Meritocracy simply cannot exist in the business world, or really any world, because the practice behind the idea has been too corrupted for too long to recover. It is a much better solution to actively work against corruption to actually end up with the result we seek — equality for all.