Tech’s Meritocracy Problem: Perception doesn’t match reality
The blog post linked below was inspired by Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella’s gaffe at Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, but connects to an important theme in the story of the lack of diversity in computing. Many in computing think that the tech industry is a meritocracy, where the most capable get the most credit and best pay. It underlies the entrepreneur’s belief that the successful entrepreneur gets there because of his or her hard work alone. But it’s clearly not true — a lesson that I first learned from Caroline Simard.
Meritocracy is a myth. And our belief in it is holding back the tech industry from getting better.The intent to be meritocratic is not a myth, but we know what road is paved with good intentions. In practice, merit and impact in software engineering are impossible to measure objectively. And so we fall back on subjective evaluation of merit. And when we are measuring subjectively, we are prone to cognitive error stemming from stereotypes and other unconscious beliefs. We have unimpeachable research that when you ask any of us, male or female, to evaluate the work of women mathematicians, engineers, and scientists, we evaluate identical work to be less meritorious than a man’s.