Anti-Racism Resources October 2022: Diversity in a Meritocracy
We have already learned why diversity is important for performance and innovation. Here we explore how a focus on potential, rather than status, and an acknowledgement of privilege and bias, can support a meritocracy and lead to inclusive practices.
Advocates of meritocratic systems stress that everyone has an equal chance to advance and obtain rewards based on their individual merits and efforts, regardless of their gender, race, class, or other non-merit factors. However, research suggests that an emphasis on meritocratic practices can have the unintended consequence of increasing bias1, therefore leading to inequity. Meritocracy can also fail to take account of unearned privilege. Those that belong in the more socially desirable demographic groups (based on, for example, race, class, education, gender) benefit from a conferred status that is not related to performance and this advantage can continue and be gradually enhanced throughout their career.
I think the thing about the merit picture is that you can’t have a discussion about things being merit-based if you don’t provide a level playing field. And the non-levelness of the playing field may not always be evident to the people making decisions...
- Prof Rachel Oliver, University of Cambridge and leader of The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM.2
In the same way, a merit-based approach can fail to recognise the challenges faced, and overcome, by people navigating inherently racist, ableist, sexist and neurotypical systems.
To ensure that merit-based recruitment, promotion, and reward are equitable, we must become more aware of the role of unearned privilege and bias in our decision-making processes. It’s natural to like people who have similarities to us but homogeneity has an adverse impact on diversity. We need to find ways to recruit and retain talented individuals based on their potential, rather than their status. This approach supports genuine meritocracy and builds inclusion into our processes and practices.
LIMITATIONS OF THE TERM ‘BAME’
For the purposes of data collection, statistics, and reporting, the collective term ‘BAME’ (black and minority ethnic) is often used, and where we refer to such data, we use the same terminology. However, we are aware of the difficulties and limitations around using such broad terminology. ‘BAME’ is frequently used to group all ethnic minorities together which can disguise disparities in outcomes and experiences between different groups. It also emphasises certain groups (Asian and Black) and excludes others that also face negative disparities. Most importantly, many people from minoritised groups themselves say they do not like the term.
Where possible, we aim to use specific ethnic classifications and related data to ensure that we are not overlooking issues faced by particular groups.
References & Resources
1 Castilla, E. J., & Benard, S. (2010). The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55(4), 543–576.
2 Prasad, A (2021). Why are there still so few black scientists in the UK? The Guardian, 10 April 2021. Why are there still so few black scientists in the UK? | Science | The Guardian
Poster Data Sources
- Undergraduate admissions and education - Race report statistics | Equality and Human Rights Commission (equalityhumanrights.com)
- Postgraduate funding - Detailed ethnicity analysis of funding applicants and awardees 2014-15 to 2018-19 (UKRI)
- Research grant funding - Grant funding data report 2019/20 (Wellcome Trust)
- Employment and promotion - New CSI report on ethnic minority job discrimination - Nuffield College Oxford University
- University of Oxford Race Equality Strategy | Equality and Diversity Unit (ox.ac.uk)
- How we gave Oxford University applicants a level playing field | Marchella Ward | The Guardian
- How to achieve diversity through merit-based hiring | HRZone
- Narrative CVs | Research and Innovation | Imperial College London
- Meritocracy harms everyone — even the winners - Vox
- Becoming anti-racist: the principles guiding Wellcome's journey | Wellcome
- Authors’ names have ‘astonishing’ influence on peer reviewers (nature.com)