A couple of days ago, I posted about the practical discrimination in a hiring/raise/promotion system that requires people to ask/beg/demand to get ahead in their work. A number of people commented in response that this “is just the way business works.” There are a couple of problems with this.
The first problem is that, no, this isn’t just the way this works. Particularly for raises, many companies have systems of pay grades or bands and performance ratings that are designed to take bias out of the process. You’re in the middle of your pay band and you have an average performance rating? Great, your pay increase is roughly equal to inflation. It’s higher if you’re a higher performer. Lower portion of your pay band with the same performance? Another percent or two higher. Anywhere in the pay bands with a less than satisfactory rating? No increase, unless it’s required to stay within that inflation-adjusted pay band.
You get the idea. Nor is it new. I’ve worked at (mostly very large) companies receiving pay increases on this basis for the vast majority of my working life. It’s simple to understand and administer, and the system is built to inoculate a company against charges of discrimination.
Similarly, tying a portion of pay on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis to numeric performance measures is nothing new. It’s not necessarily a great way to be paid in a recession, but it’s great in a boom economy, and it still removes bias from the pay process.
In other words, there are ways to make this work. This is not a new field. None of these are new ideas. They simply–apparently–are among those topics that have to be discussed from scratch every single time they come up.
Eric Ries recently did a very good job of doing just that while talking about diversity in hiring and investing in tech startups:
What is true for aptitude is also true for interest. Some populations are more interested in science, in math, in business, and in taking risks than others. But all of the research I am aware of suggests that these differences are extremely small – not nearly big enough to explain what we’re observing in places like Y Combinator.
This is why I personally care about diversity: it’s the canary in the coal mine for meritocracy. When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong with our selection process, that it’s not actually as meritocratic as it could be. And I believe that is exactly what is happening in Silicon Valley.
Dominic Barton, Debra Lee, and Geena Davis made excellent points on the topic speaking to The Wall Street Journal‘s CEO Council:
There was a data point that men are promoted on potential, and women are promoted on performance, which I had never heard of before, but I thought was very interesting.
And so, one of the recommendations is that women should be promoted on potential. If you see a young woman who you know will go far at the company, she should be pushed along. Don’t wait for her to do something amazing, which is usually the way it happens with women.
There are corporate boards, which everyone agrees provide an amazing opportunity for women. CEOs should ensure there are women on their boards, but they also should recommend women within their company to serve on other boards.
Jamelle Bouie talks about how the lack of diversity in Apple’s development teams likely created the recent “Siri, where can I get an abortion?” debacle:
That Siri gives responses for blowjobs and strippers — but can’t return a query about birth control — has everything to do with the fact that Apple (and Silicon Valley writ large) is a place dominated by men and their preferences. In all likelihood, Siri was developed and optimized by a team of all dudes or mostly dudes. And while they made sure to include things that were gender-neutral (like mental health services), there was no effort to approach Siri from the perspective of a woman user. Indeed, reproductive health is a classic male blind spot — it’s women who are “supposed” carry the responsibility for contraceptives. Men, in general, get a pass. The problem with Siri isn’t that the programmers hate women, it’s that they weren’t even on the radar.
Given the extent to which women are underrepresented in the tech industry, you could almost say that this — or something like it — was bound to happen. What’s more, we can expect it to happen again.
Notice, in all of these posts, that no one is talking about treating any minority in a special way. This is all about finding ways to treat sexes, races, etc. equally. Nor are we to do it out of any general sense of fair play (except as we want to be treated fairly ourselves). The point is to support merit everywhere it is found, and to effectively put it to work for you.