Creating more gender equitable and inclusive cultures is high on the agenda for many organisations. However there is often a disconnect between existing staff development activities and efforts to create the desired cultures. More explicitly linking individual development to organisational change can make a big difference to the return on investment when developing staff. The ‘bifocal approach’ translates this ideal into reality through clear principles and program design.

Quotas and Merit

Cordelia Fine, author of Testosterone Rex, was recently a guest, alongside Carol Schwartz and David Gonski on the Policy Shop podcast. The program To quota or not to quota was hosted  by Glyn Davis, University of Melbourne's VC.

I've lifted two terrific excerpts that pick up on issues in my previous blog on merit

Firstly, the way in which quotas and merit are immediately seen as mutually exclusive. 

Carol Schwartz:
I find this really frustrating, to think that quotas and merit are mutually exclusive concepts. I mean, the fact is that merit is determined by the group that’s dominant at any particular time. So the concept of merit being some generic, objective standard of what’s appropriate and what’s qualified is absolutely not correct.

The merit argument is often used to close down discussions on quotas. So conversely, if we can open up merit for discussion, perhaps we can give quotas some serious consideration. Listen to the podcast for more on this!

Secondly, a deconstruction of what is required to claim a meritocracy.

Not only is merit defined by the dominant group, as Carol notes, it all starts to unravel when we give some serious consideration as to what would be required to claim that we have a meritocracy.

Cordelia Fine:
I think one thing to bear in mind when thinking about this concern about compromising merit is thinking about what you need for a perfect meritocracy.
  1. So you need to be very confident that your selection processes are completely unbiased by arbitrary or irrelevant factors, like what ethnicity someone is, or what sex they are.
  2. You have to be quite sure that the criteria that you’re using for selection are valid, that you have good ways of measuring them, and that they actually predict performance. So, for example, particular forms of prior experience may be over-used as a criterion for who’s suitable for a job. 
  3. Then in a sort of broader sense you have to have a confidence that people are actually being given equal opportunities to be considered in the first place, through ending up in the recruitment pool, having had the development opportunities and the particular experiences that they need to be considered on the table.
I think what quotas do is they force a re-examination of to what extent those criteria are being fulfilled in particular selection processes. I think we have very good data to not be confident that all those criteria are necessarily in place.  (numbering and bolding added)

Enough said. Lets not keep dancing around merit or quotas. If we are serious about creating more gender equitable workplaces, both a re-examination of merit and the use of quotas need to be on the table for serious consideration.