Hiring on ‘merit’ perpetuates biases and penalises women seeking senior roles says .

Hiring on merit is great in theory, but a number of ingrained (and often subsconscious) biases creates a ‘merit trap’ that makes it harder for talented women to secure senior roles.

Yesterday Chief Executive Women and The Male Champions of Change co-released the report In the Eyes of the Beholder: Avoiding the Merit Trap, which explicitly addresses this dynamic. It has been signed by 21 of Australia’s leading business figures, including Ian Narev, Alan Joyce, Elizabeth Broderick AO, Shayne Elliott and Andrew Penn.

“When we use merit as shorthand for a package of admirable qualities that
we innately recognise, we devalue ‘merit’. Many studies confirm that we are
drawn to those who think, look and act like us. This is a problem for women
working in male dominated environments where there are deeply held
beliefs and norms about who is suitable for leadership.
Research has found that gender bias persists in many organisations, and
even more so in self-labelled ‘meritocracies’:
  • Affinity bias is a tendency to favour people who are like us, resulting in homogenous teams and group think
  • Confirmation bias happens when we seek to confirm our beliefs, preferences or judgements, ignoring contradictory evidence
  • Halo effect occurs when we like someone and therefore are biased to think everything about that person is good
  • Social and group think bias is the propensity to agree with the majority or someone more senior to us to maintain harmony”



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