A report released by Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change shows that although ‘appointing on merit’ sounds fair, it is often used to mask a variety of biases that prevent the progress of women.

The report argues Australian organisations must face up to the merit trap if they are to benefit from gender diversity.

“If we believe that men and women are equally able in a company or a country, then we should be expecting a 50:50 outcome. If we don’t get that, then there is either bias or constraints to natural merit,” said Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army and Male Champion of Change.

“When we use merit as shorthand for a package of admirable qualities that we innately recognise—that’s devaluing merit. Merit is hard. It needs to be assessed for each and every appointment,” said Diane Smith-Gander, President of Chief Executive Women.

Leaders from many of Australia’s largest and most powerful institutions are behind the report In the eye of the beholder: Avoiding the merit trap, including: Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas; Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet; Shayne Elliott, CEO of ANZ; Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO Jetstar Group; Andrew Penn, CEO of Telstra; Ian Narev, CEO of CBA; Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor University of Sydney; Angus Campbell, Chief of Army; Cindy Hook, CEO of Deloitte; Kathryn Fagg, NED; John Lydon, Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company; Meredith Hellicar, CEO of Merryck & Co; and Kevin McCann, NED.

The report explains what the merit trap is and why it’s a problem, and provides guidance to help organisations spot the warning signs.

It draws on recent research to show that the way merit is currently used in appointment decisions can, in fact, hide gender bias and protect the status quo.

Indeed, the more an organisation promotes itself as meritocratic, the more inequitable it was found to be.

To download the report, click here.

Categories: Australia