A fascinating study by researchers Emilio J. Castilla (MIT) and Stephen Bernard (Indiana University) showed that the more an organization explicitly presents itself as a meritocracy, the more gender imbalances exist in that company, especially when it comes to pay gaps. They coined the term “paradox of meritocracy” to describe the phenomenon in which managers in organizations that promote themselves as meritocratic show greater bias in favoring men over equally performing women for raises and bonuses.
Further, emphasizing meritocracy can turn off minority candidates, especially when a company has low levels of visible minority representation. For example, a Yale-led study found that advocating a “colorblind” policy (as opposed to explicitly valuing diversity) when minority representation in recruiting materials was low led African-American managers to experience heightened distrust and discomfort with an organization. (There was no effect of advocating a colorblind policy vs. diversity when minority representation was high).