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Cover image for Diversity Shouldn't Override Merit
John Neuhaus
John Neuhaus

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Diversity Shouldn't Override Merit

Buckle up, buttercups, because I'm gonna say some things you might not want to hear.

Diversity shouldn't override merit. The tech industry should not lower standards just to cater to specific demographics.


Mad yet, or nodding your head? I'm not wrong. Ah, but maybe you've pictured a certain person as the speaker, perhaps in the context of a more specific conversation.

Two panel image. White male boss happily looks at black woman's resume on left. White male boss discusses something unpleasant to black woman on right.

"Wow, your credentials are amazing! The thing is, diversity shouldn't override merit."

Oof, that's awkward! And a bit.. irrelevant? Seems like maybe he's trying to imply something there.

Merit is a bullshit excuse

If you bring up making a concerted effort to hire outside the salad dressing aisle, you're bound to hear this. Some other renditions of this classic hit include:

  • "We don't want to lower the bar."
  • "Shouldn't we just hire the best candidate?"

Gee, that's a good idea! And here I was, about to spend extra time and effort hiring a bunch of losers I'd have my name permanently stuck to. Thanks for the assist!

Monkey puppet looks offscreen at something, then looks away like it didn't see anything.

Every hiring manager who's said this

Diversity doesn't come at the expense of merit, unless you're actually arguing that group X is worse enough on average to ignore, in which case you're straight up being racist/sexist. It does come at the expense of effort, however.

Your "standards" are shit

More accurately, your "standards" are largely based on what you've been taught success looks like; A well-groomed white boy, showing up 5 minutes early to the interview, slightly overdressed and with a pocket full of clichéd answers.

Thing is, those markers are 100% appearance and 0% substance. Which we already know of course, but that's what we fall back to, because it's how we were raised, and what we're used to. In a word, it's comfortable.

Left: Rough, uncut diamond. Right: Polished sphere of dung.

Left: Diamonds. Right: A piece of shit.

Going through the same job sites, subconsciously filtering for recognizable names and work histories, means that your source material is people like you from the get go. If your short list is all Johns and Michaels, of course it looks like "there just aren't any good female candidates." You already filtered them out, doofus.

Do better

If it sounds like I'm being hard, it's because you're being stupid. Diversity in candidates requires diversity in sources, which means expending effort to broaden them, looking in new places and with new eyes. When someone expresses this desire, and you start talking about lowering the bar instead, you're being stupid at best.

Even worse, you should know that when you want something rare and valuable, you almost always want to optimize for attempts. So if you want a top 10% engineer, you want more candidates. You know this too, but somehow keep forgetting when someone says they also want different candidates.

So fellow white guys, this one is on us. When someone starts talking about increasing diversity, resist the urge to respond with some nonsense about not seeing color or gender. Just get out of the damn way! And when you see someone trying to shoot it down, call them out! "Are you saying we shouldn't interview more women?"

Merit comes first, right?

Top comments (1)

rainleander profile image
Rain Leander

YESSSS!! ! Thanks for this, John.