We Just Can’t Handle Diversity

It’s hard to argue with the benefits of diversity, given the decades’ worth of studies showing that a diverse workforce measurably improves decision making, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and flexibility.

Most of us also believe that hiring, development, and compensation decisions should come down to who deserves what. Although the two ideas don’t seem contradictory, they’re tough to reconcile in practice. Cognitive roadblocks keep getting in the way.

The Trouble with Merit

While merit sounds like an easy, obvious filter for talent decisions, it’s anything but. We believe we know good talent when we see it, yet we usually don’t—we’re terrible at evaluating people objectively. That’s why orchestras started holding blind auditions decades ago. It’s why today algorithms often make smarter hires than people do. It’s why so many companies are searching for alternatives to traditional performance reviews. Even (and especially) when leaders proclaim a commitment to fairness in their organizations, stereotypes cause them to evaluate and treat equal performers differently, as Emilio Castilla, of MIT, and Stephen Benard, of Indiana University, have demonstrated in their well-known research on the “paradox of meritocracy.”

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