Some months ago, I somehow got subscribed to a human resources industry e-newsletter. I always think about unsubscribing, but there’s almost always a fascinating article that comes through. Obviously, the newsletter is geared toward people who are in charge of hiring, but as someone on the opposite end of that, it’s been extremely enlightening to get a glimpse of how “the other half” thinks, how they might view me, and what principles might be at play when my employment is changing in some way.
It’s not always been comforting. I’ve read some really squirm-inducing articles about the evils of things like the Family Medical Leave Act, worker’s compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc. While I’m not naive and I know that there are, unfortunately, people who take advantage of programs like those that protect workers, but I guess I never really considered that employers regarded these things as nuisances that they have to work around. It scares me a little to think of what might happen if I or someone I cared about had to take a leave and know that their employer might be hard at work trying to figure out a way to fire them for that.
Another less-than-awesome article that came through today was about a study that researchers at MIT did about the practice of merit-based pay and what, if any, biases come into play. The researchers, Dr. Emilio J. Castilla of MIT and Dr. Stephen Benard of Indiana University of Bloomington, set up a fake company and recruited subjects with managerial experience to evaluate a group of employees who were candidates for bonuses. Two of the employees had identical job performance histories. One was male and one was female.
When the managerial subjects were instructed to distribute bonuses and were told that the bonuses were merit-based, they gave the male employees an average of $50 more than the female employees. When no mention was made of meritocracy, the bonuses were generally equal. Interestingly, the female managerial subjects were just as likely as the males to display this gender bias.
The researchers propose that this bias could extend to minorities, as well.
Why is this? Quoth the article:
“It could be that people are just racist or sexist,” says Castilla. “Meritocratic practice gives them an opportunity to exercise those biases.”
The lesson to be learned here is that working hard is for suckers. No, just kidding. But if you’ve long suspected that busting your ass and playing by the rules wasn’t enough, you may be right, sadly.