Diversity vs merit…which is more important?

This is a question on just about every CEO’s mind. And, some are speaking up on which they think carries more weight.

In this article, we take a look at opinions from several execs and give you some texture around merit vs diversity (from their C-level perspective).

Diversity vs Merit — which one is more important for success?

Long-time BBC radio presenter Nigel Rees quit the network in January 2022 “after being increasingly angered by the broadcaster’s insistence on pushing its diversity agenda”. Rees said he felt too much pressure to find people from certain genders, races, (and even disabilities) instead of following his rule to have people who are “right for the program.”

(source: The Global Herald)

In a June 2021 interview for Bloomberg, Snowflake CEO, Frank Slootman gave his opinion for merit vs diversity:

“We’re actually highly sympathetic to diversity but we just don’t want that to override merit. If I start doing that, I start compromising the company’s mission literally,” In the interview with Bloomberg Television, Slootman went on to say; “Other CEOs feel the same way about the need to reach a more “moderated” approach to diversity, but are reluctant to say so publicly.” 

source: (Bloomberg)

After speaking with other CEOs “privately” Slootman says:

“…we are of the same mind, just publicly they find it hard to be that way…

We need to come to a more moderated, real place. There’s really no room for the hysteria and the outrage. We’re CEOs, we run companies, we have to produce results for our employees and our partners and our investors and our customers. We can’t get distracted in that mission. When you do, you might as well hang it up and let somebody else do it.”

source: (Bloomberg)

Slootman’s stance on merit vs diversity caused some outrage.

Ursula Burns, former CEO and chair of Xerox, is for diversity vs merit. Here’s her response to Slootman’s statement:

“Before you use language that is inappropriate, before you use examples that are inappropriate, think about it a little bit and if it’s too far on the edge, then I would say shut up,”

(source: CNBC)

Slootman has since apologized for his remarks. Burns continues to encourage the conversation for diversity vs merit at the C-level saying:

“We are all learning how to have a conversation that is not divisive. The important thing is we cannot stop the conversations. We can’t pretend like we know all of the answers. We have to power through things and learn.”

(source: CNBC)

In the same article on tackling diversity in corporate America, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, told CNBC:

“The leaders that are doing that best are leading conversations on trust, and they also have qualities of grace, compassion and empathy”

Markel Corporation CEO, Richie Whitt, says inclusion is embedded within the “Markel Style” and their D&I page shows value to diversity AND merit equally:

“We work to create a place where all ideas are heard, diverse perspectives are valued, and decisions are made based on merit.”

(source: Markel Diversity and Inclusion)

Whitt’s words echo those of CMO @ Figo, Vanessa Yeh, who sees merit vs diversity equally. In an article for Indeed, Yeh compares business to a body and team members to organs, saying “guess what? You don’t need 14 kidneys.”

Yeh says diversity vs merit is a:

false dichotomy; they’re often one and the same

Balance, not just between men and women, but between all kinds of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints is the force that keeps us standing tall, equipped to handle whatever the world throws at us — as individuals, teams, and businesses.”

(source: LinkedIn Pulse)

All of these statements suggest there’s a lack of clarity (and cohesion) around which is more important…diversity vs merit. My 2 cents…finding a balance of both and creating an inclusive culture, equals success.


Why I Wrote This?

Our mission is to help you create effective and inclusive job descriptions so you can recruit top talent. Learn more about Ongig’s Text Analyzer software.



  1. Snowflake CEO Says Diversity Goal Is Secondary in Hiring Choices (by Emily Chang and Dina Bass)
  2. Male hospital executive wins $10M in discrimination lawsuit after being replaced by women (by Brad Dickerson and Debra Dolan)
  3. Ursula Burns and Darren Walker tackle diversity in corporate America (by Mikaela Cohen)
  4. Diversity vs. Merit: Yes, We’re Still Talking About It (by Vanessa Yeh)
  5. Diversity and inclusion (by Markel Corporation)
  6. BBC prioritizes diversity over merit – Nigel Rees to RT(by The Global Herald News Desk)

by in Diversity and Inclusion