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MEI hiring principle ignites DEI debate

MEI hiring principle ignites DEI debate

Hiring Debate

Alexandr Wang, cofounder and CEO of Scale AI, recently introduced a new hiring principle called “MEI,” which stands for “merit, excellence, and intelligence.” Wang argues that his company’s success is due to hiring the best person for the job based on merit. We hire only the best person for the job, seek out and demand excellence, and unapologetically prefer people who are very smart,” Wang stated. He emphasized that Scale AI treats everyone as individuals and does not engage in unfair stereotyping or tokenizing based on demographic categories.

However, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts argue that MEI oversimplifies the nature of meritocracy and ignores systemic biases that have historically excluded underrepresented groups from many professional opportunities. Adia Wingfield, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, explains that the notion of a purely meritocratic past is a myth.

When we talk about advancing DEI, the idea is to move away from a very non-meritocratic past into a future where everyone really does have opportunities and access to various jobs and forms of work,” Wingfield says. Experts agree that hiring the best person for the job should be the goal for every organization. Natalie Johnson, cofounder and managing director of strategy at DEI consulting firm Paradigm, notes that many aspects of Wang’s MEI approach align with the goals of DEI practitioners.

Merit vs. equity in hiring

However, Wang’s assertion that hiring can be entirely objective is seen as problematic. Johnson and other DEI advocates argue that no one is free from bias.

Lisa Simon, chief economist at Revelio Labs, cautions that removing DEI policies could lead to people hiring others who look similar to themselves, thus perpetuating existing biases. Academic research supports these concerns. A 2010 study in Administrative Science Quarterly found that organizations promoting meritocracy often inadvertently show bias towards men over equally performing women during performance evaluations.

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This is especially concerning in the field of AI, where women held only 18% of global roles in 2023. Given the rising influence of AI in various aspects of life, a lack of diversity in this sector could lead to further marginalization of certain communities. Given that the tech industry is notoriously non-diverse, yet has an enormous amount of influence in shaping critical tools for our future, it’s essential for diversity to be something that they recognize and value, rather than downplaying and minimizing,” Wingfield concludes.

While the concept of merit, excellence, and intelligence may appear appealing, experts argue that it must be integrated with a robust understanding of the need for diversity and inclusion to truly create equitable and fair hiring practices.

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