DCA debate finds promotion on merit does not give everyone a ‘fair go’

Media releases
Topics Inclusion

The Diversity Council Australia and INPEX Annual Diversity Debate held in Sydney last night found that promotion on merit does not give everyone a ‘fair go’, with the audience voting strongly in favour of the negative team by 79% to 21%.

A capacity crowd of nearly 200 CEOs, HR directors and managers watched a high profile panel debate ‘the merits of merit’. While both sides agreed that promotion on merit is the ideal, the reality in today’s workplaces appears to be falling short and we are failing to recognise merit in all its different forms.

Both sides pointed to problems of how merit is defined, the way merit is applied in the workplace and the pathways for promotion.

Despite 85% of audience members voting that their organisation promotes itself or sees itself as being a merit-based organisation, only 55% of them said their organisation actually is a merit-based organisation.

Only 34% of the audience said promoting on merit was delivering improved representation of women or other diverse groups in leadership.

For the fourth year in a row, the debate was emceed by Tony Jones, respected journalist and host of ABC TV's Q&A. The debate panel included:

For the affirmative - promotion on merit DOES give everyone a ‘fair go’:

  • Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner
  • Patricia Karvelas, Victorian Editor and Bureau Chief, The Australian
  • Julie Garland McLellan FAICD, Company Director

For the negative - promotion on merit DOES NOT give everyone a ‘fair go’:

  • Lieutenant General David MorrisonAO, Chief of Army
  • Jodie Hatherly, General Counsel and GM Commercial, INPEX
  • Dr Jennifer Whelan, former academic and Director of Psynapse

DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said the debate is important for all employers.

“For a long time now, it has been assumed that the best way to promote people into positions of leadership is on ‘merit’. However, the persistent lack of diversity in Australia’s leadership does suggest that we need to take a closer look at the concept of merit and how it is being applied. The debate has shed some really valuable light on the positives and negatives of merit, and what if anything needs to change to ensure talent of all kinds can reach the top,” said Lisa.

During the debate, Lieutenant General David Morrison, Chief of Army and speaker for the negative team said ‘merit’ should be questioned.

“Because men are more likely to be promoted on potential, and women more likely to be promoted on proven performance, there is no level playing field. ‘Merit’ becomes subjective not objective,” said David.

Julie Garland McLellan, prominent company director and speaker for the affirmative said the impediments to developing merit need to be removed rather than appointing without it.

“We need to allow people to work and develop, not promote them to levels where they haven’t got the skills or experience to succeed,” said Julie.

DCA would like to thank Major Sponsor INPEX as well as Supporting Sponsors Optus, Associate Sponsor Lion and Broadcast Partner BRR Media, for making the Debate the diversity event of the year.