In Business, Meritocracy Always Wins

meritocracyNBC has a new article titled Reality check: Why #MeToo will not stop men from hiring women. Some of the arguments made seem to border on being anti-meritocratic.

As the #MeToo movement marches on with no signs of slowing, the air is filled with warnings that men will react by refusing to hire and promote women.

This seems a little hyperbolic.

At a seminar in California in March, self-help tycoon Tony Robbins argued that efforts to challenge sexual harassment would only end up punishing women. He offered an anecdote about a “very famous man, a very powerful man” who passed over a female job candidate despite her superior qualifications because her attractiveness made her “too big a risk.” Robbins cautioned, “a dozen men” had told him the same story.

His point was that a victim mentality will not solve problems.

After a video compilation of his remarks posted by NowThisNews went viral, he apologized, admitting, “It is clear that I still have much to learn.”

When facing a frontal assault, withdrawal is often the right move.


So, the author believes she knows better than Tony Robbins. Talk about hubris.

But Robbins is not alone. The fear that #MeToo will provoke a female hiring freeze has been echoed by a flurry of news headlines and commentary by celebrities from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to prominent women like Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski.

OK. So why are they wrong?

Some women, especially younger ones, are getting nervous. A recent poll by Vox and Morning Consult shows that roughly a third of women under 35 are “very concerned” that #MeToo will cause women to be denied professional opportunities by men who don’t want to work with them.

Why shouldn’t they be worried?

Are these fears justified? It’s not hard to imagine that there are men who will still make hiring decisions based on their gender biases and sexual appetites. That’s an ugly reality. But will such individuals drive women out of the workplace and keep them from moving up?

This is not why women will be passed over. Rather, some men will choose not to hire women to mitigate the risk of having allegations brought against them or their male employees. The question is, how big will the backlash be? Will it cause losses that outweigh any gains made by the #metoo movement?

Fortunately, there is already plenty of proof that the #MeToo movement will end up being good for female jobseekers.

OK, let’s hear it.

Indeed, new evidence indicates that women — particularly female leaders — may be in more demand than ever before. In February, the Boston recruiting marketplace Scout Exchange released a survey of more than 1,300 head hunters across America that demonstrated improvements in gender parity in the workplace. It turns out 80 percent of recruiters witnessed an uptick in requests for female executives over the previous 12 months.

This is not surprising. Companies, especially large ones, are sensitive to opinion, and are setting goals to hire more women. Looking only at head hunters will give a skewed picture.

Scout Exchange also found that since October, right around the time that the #MeToo movement caught fire, there has been a 41 percent increase in cases where women beat out men for executive-level jobs.

Same comment.

So much for the female hiring freeze.

No one mentioned a hiring freeze, or any kind of official policy. The actions Robbins was talking about wouldn’t involve a recruiter.

Meanwhile, men who think they can sidestep the challenges of #MeToo by holing up in a woman-free brotopia may want to think again.

Some men will do exactly that, though, by retreating to start ups and small companies that can’t afford to hire based upon any criteria other than merit. Calling meritocratic companies ‘brotopias’ isn’t going to hurt them.

Companies and organizations are finally getting the memo that they risk a reputational hit if they don’t get their act together on recognizing female talent.

Female talent that isn’t the best talent for the job shouldn’t be preferred. Great companies hire the best person for the job, regardless of gender or race. In the end, if your company is not successful, it won’t have a good reputation.

In a 2017 report, Calvert Research and Management, which tracks diversity among Standard & Poors 100 companies, notes an “upward trend” since 2010 in programs to foster diversity in hire and attract women and minorities. Popular magazines like Forbes are paying attention, highlighting companies that perform well in this area, like Merck and Citigroup, as well as those that fail, such as eBay and Berkshire Hathaway.

And notice that these are all big companies. Think about the industries they are in: Merck in pharmaceuticals and Citigroup in banking, eBay in retail and Berkshire Hathaway in investment. Perhaps the differences in industries help explain why Merck and Citigroup are able to hire women and eBay and Berkshire Hathaway are not.

Failure is costly: After a spate of articles revealing the company’s sexist culture and a revolt by female employees, Nike is scrambling to save its damaged image by promising to hire and promote more women.

Nike has always been a meritocratic company with a bias for action (“just do it”). Time will tell whether hiring and promoting more women helps make them more or less successful.

Men who try to avoid problems at work by shunning women are clearly in need of an update on the law. Obviously it’s not lawful to grab a woman’s breast at the office. But refusing to take a meeting with a female colleague because she is a woman also violates federal gender discrimination statutes.

If women complain that they are being discriminated against because men won’t meet with them, it will lead some men to leave their companies to avoid these women altogether. If those men are valuable employees, this will make their companies less competitive. If companies are losing good people, they will take action, though maybe not overtly.

No company is immune. Even the venerable investment bank Goldman Sachs is now on the defensive with news that more than 2,000 female employees are moving ahead with a gender bias class action lawsuit against the company for its alleged sexist culture and failure to advance women.

And recently, the US supreme court upheld the right of companies to include clauses in employment contracts that require such complaints to be taken to arbitration, effectively blocking such class actions. I expect to see these clauses show up in many employment contracts.

Experienced and smart executives know that failing to hire women hurts the bottom line. The International Monetary Fund (which happens to be led by a woman, Christine Lagarde) looked at gender diversity at 2 million companies in Europe in 2016 and found that those with women in senior positions made more money. Other studies have found that employees where women lead tend to be more innovative. Joe Carella, assistant dean at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, reports to CNBC that firms with women in top management produce more “innovation intensity,” judged by measures like an increase in patents by over 20 percent.

If this is truly the case, meritocratic companies will be hiring women as the best candidates for the job. Patents are not a good measure of innovation; they are essentially a bureaucratic tool for protecting markets from competition.

A company’s customers can vote with their wallets if a company discriminates against women — and investors can, too. The 30% Club, a group of business leaders that started in Great Britain and has expanded globally, is pushing for women to make up at least 30 percent of senior management and boards at top public companies. The group has gained public backing from 27 global investors including Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund, JPMorgan Asset Management, Standard Life and BlackRock.

Investment funds will put their money wherever they can make the most money. If they can win investors by favoring public companies that have hiring quotas, they will. If it turns out to be a losing strategy, they will quietly divest and go elsewhere.

The truth is that in every struggle for civil rights and fairness in the workplace, whether racial equality or higher pay, workers have gotten change by demanding it, not by being quiet.

Meritocracy is the only fair system. If you pass over the best person for the job, regardless of sex or race, you are not being fair.

Even the most male-dominated industries, like technology, are actively working to overcome biases and put more women in the workforce. And it’s not just about white-collar executives. In the auto industry, car dealers are making an effort to bring on more women. In Winston-Salem, N.C., the police department is looking to attract female candidates.

Technology companies tend to be very progressive, and police departments are part of the civil service, so neither of these examples is surprising.

Warnings that females will be shut out of employment if they seek justice carry an undercurrent of misogyny, as if to remind working women that they are primarily sexual objects and that making noise about unfairness is not their place. The truth is that in every struggle for civil rights and fairness in the workplace, whether racial equality or higher pay, workers have gotten change by demanding it, not by being quiet.

Equal rights are guaranteed by law. Demanding fairness and a harassment free environment is good. Demanding quotas and unmeritocratic practices is not.

Advances in women’s employment are happening alongside broader cultural shifts on issues of gender. Men who refuse to make changes are increasingly being left behind. Instead of pandering to their harmful thinking, let’s call them what they are: Dinosaurs that have no business in the 21st century workplace.

Most men are not refusing to make changes. There are men who are actively making changes to protect themselves from false accusations. Protecting oneself is not harmful thinking. Calling men who are leary of being falsely accused dinosaurs isn’t going to hurt them.

I’m skeptical of some of the claims made in this article. I wouldn’t put to much faith in the evidence from one recruiting firm. What is the market as a whole doing? In business, meritocracy will always win in the end, even when the power of government is wielded against it.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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