Is Meritocracy a Myth?

By: | March 18, 2019

Meritocracy may be a myth, but that means someone is keeping the fiction alive. The multimillion-dollar college admissions scandal the Justice Department announced this week gives us a sense of who — and why according to the Washington Post. The Meritocratists mindset in one of the most pervasive lenses in the world. To what extent do you or your colleagues use this lens? What kind of pushback do you hear about this lens in your everyday life?



“Cream rises to the top.”

Meritocratists believe in the individualist credo: If you have the abilities and work hard enough, you can compete with anyone to make your dreams come true. Meritocratists disapprove of programs that use race, culture, ethnicity, class, gender or any cultural identity dimensions as criteria for an opportunity, believing instead in personal merit.

  • Strong work ethic and a strong drive to succeed
  • High personal standards and delivery of outstanding results
  • Self-motivated and self-reliant
  • The highest value placed on individual ability and achievement
  • Strong belief in overcoming obstacles
  • Advocate for standards of excellence throughout all institutions and systems e.g. education, commerce & government
  • Success Formula: Hard work + Individual initiative + Self-sacrifice = Limitless opportunities in society
  • Eagerness to help others with the same ideals, work ethic and determination
  • Will acknowledge and support others’ competencies and accomplishments
  • View themselves as “Guardians of Fairness” ensuring that the Success Formula is fairly and evenly applied
  • Inability to relate to fellow team members who do not share the same drive, quest for success, or results
  • May be insensitive to and/or unaware of ways in which the organizational culture and systems create insurmountable barriers for members of certain identity groups
  • Limited consideration for the impact of past discrimination on the success of certain identity groups
  • Strong opposition to “special considerations” in evaluating status and success. Believe that personal achievement and competence are the only criteria
  • A belief that the “playing field” is leveled by individual competition and achievement, not by adjusting organizational systems


  • “I will use the organization’s human resources systems to establish objectively based criteria for hiring, development, and promotion, and to hold each person to these criteria. I do not want the organization to make exceptions based on cultural identity group membership, social status, or societal politics.”


  • Assuming that a person who has not achieved like the Meritocratist may lead to exclusions of persons in protected categories that are under-represented in a company’s workforce.
  • Focusing disproportionately on conventional predictors of job performance may ignore valid alternative measures of merit. Apparently, objective standards of measure, such as the number of years in the workforce, or the number of hours logged on the job or the number of trips taken, may underestimate the skills and work – a translatable experience of some members of the workforce with special circumstances.


  • Recognize the impact that stereotypes and biases have on individual achievement.
  • Learn how systemic barriers have compromised individual achievement; use this knowledge to become an advocate for change.
  • Accept the relationship between group identity politics that occur within the society and organizational brand acceptance.
  • Consider the potential negative impact on the business (and the brand) if large groups of employees inevitably hit glass ceilings.

To Learn more about the 10 lenses please visits