New report claims workplace success doesn't actually come from hard work
From an early age, children are told that if they work hard enough, they can achieve anything. However, according to a new report by Bloomberg, there may be barriers in the workplace that hard work simply can't overcome.
Francesca Levy and Rebecca Greenfield, writers for Bloomberg News, explored what they called the "myth" of meritocracy—the idea that the amount of work devoted is proportional to success gained. “It’s such an appealing narrative, but it’s not real,” Levy and Greenfield said. “It’s demoralizing when working around people who are where they are simply because of who they know or how long they’ve been in a company.”
In their research, Levy and Greenfield found that “the same people that rise to the top in a meritocracy are the same that rise in other hierarchical systems.”
If they're correct, hard work is not the only factor to success.
Lee University’s Coordinator for Coaching and Mentoring Kelsey Baker explains some person-to-person traits she thinks are involved in achieving success in school or the workplace.
“A couple of things that [the Center for Student Success] has been talking about have been resilience and non-cognitive skills to help your success. Work ethic is only one of those,” Baker said. “There is also believing, motivation, ability to bounce back from failure [and] help-seeking.”
These invisible traits are similarly in Levy and Greenfield's Bloomberg report. “There are all sorts of invisible things that you don’t see that make the playing field uneven,” they wrote.
So how do schools and corporations—both reliant on the work of the people within—address these “invisible things”? Erin Looney, Lee University’s Director of Student Success and Retention, said the platform must be even for all students.
“There’s a difference between equality and equity. A lot of higher education has pushed schools to give access to everyone, but then people show up unprepared. This is equality, but it is not equitable,” Looney said. “What we [at Lee University] are trying to do is make our curriculum more equitable for students who are underprepared. Lee is very much a second-chance school that gives opportunities to students that other universities may not. But, our real mission is to also make our environment equitable.”
One way in which Lee University is doing this is through the new program, the Hub.
“[This] means beefing up our resources to put [students] on a level playing field—meet students where they are at,” Looney said. “We provide them the resources they may need along the way when they come across stressful situations; the noncognitive skills has been a big emphasis in our startup.”
As for the corporate realm, Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse Island Inc., a computer programming education agency, argues that organizations must invest in their main source of capital: employees. “If you are a meritocracy, are you willing to invest in people? Invest in their education, incorporate them as apprentices, instead of demanding mid to senior level people,” Carson said. “If you are willing to do that, you can be a part of the solution.”
Dr. Hermilo Jasso, Lee University professor of economics, said that type of investment is vital to the success of a meritocratic society.
“A country’s economy is based on the productivity of its resources. The resource that many nations have is their workers,” Jasso said. “Some nations, like Japan—their main success comes as a result of the output of their workers.”
However, according to Jasso, on an economical level, it's discrimination that holds countries back.
“If a country is not willing to provide all their resources to the market, then the economy will never be able to advance. For example, Saudi Arabia," Jasso said. "Their treatment of women is limiting them. Think about the waste of resources when a female is not able to make a contribution to the output of the nation. When you look at the Middle East, 50% of their resources are being wasted.”
For countries, Jasso said, the equation is simple: “No work, no progress. No progress, poverty. Economically speaking, discrimination is the worst decision you can make.”
Ryan Carson agrees on a corporate level, “Almost everyone has hidden biases, and you have to systematically weed them out and not just say ‘we think we are okay.’”
Levy and Greenfield insist that “you set up a system that says ‘all ideas are welcome,’ but the danger is leaving it at only focusing on that one barrier."
Working hard will take a person far in business, but unless organizations are willing to address the discrimination and uneven playing field in their environments, then meritocracy is merely a myth.