Workplace aristocracy

Are you sitting down as you read this? Good. This might shock you — I don’t like ‘Downton Abbey’. There, I said it. In fact, if you were to ask me to list my top ten reasons why I wanted to move to America — one of those would be a disdain for monarchy and the British aristocracy. Even though it looks cute and quaint, I can tell you from first-hand experience: working with, and working for the children of the Lords and Ladies of England is not so endearing.

Call me “an ungrateful subject of the crown”; call me a “rebel” — hey, call me “nearly American” but the practice of awarding positions or promotions on anything other than someone’s character and competence is completely abhorrent to me. The word “nepotism” comes from the Italian word for nephew. Apparently back in the 17th century a lot of people tended to promote their nephews to powerful positions at the expense of other candidates. Why just nephews? Nepotism has advanced considerably in the last four centuries and we still see it alive and well, based on factors other than just bloodlines. For example: one’s education can be an influencer for landing the job when the interviewer catches on that you graduated from the same university they did. It may well be that you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who works at the organization that helps get you the job — yes, this is still a type of nepotism.

May I go out on a limb and say our unconscious biases can influence our decision as business owners or interviewers if we don’t keep them in check? Unconsciously, I may prefer to see a male in the role perhaps because I’m male. Unconsciously, maybe I resonate with Caucasians because I’m Caucasian. Maybe, I’d like to have another colleague who is over forty because I’m over forty. These are all unconscious biases because all that should really matter is the person’s past performance of their work (competence) and how they conduct themselves while doing said work (character).

In accounting we have what we call the “revenue recognition concept” which dictates when a transaction can be recorded as revenue. Quite simply, we recognize revenue when its been earned. You might be wondering what this has to do with nepotism and I believe positions and promotions should only be recognized when the person has earned it! What does my heritage, my school colors or who I am related to, have to do with whether I should get the job or the promotion? Surely, I should be rewarded based on what I’ve done rather than on extraneous factors outside of my control?

Please hear me — I’m no socialist. I truly believe people should be rewarded well for what they’ve contributed. Due to the fact that some people work harder; invest smarter; live more frugally — there will always be asset and income disparities between people. I believe in capitalism. I just don’t believe in nepotism as a vehicle by which the power is held in the hands of a privileged few. I just don’t believe in the inheritance of gentrified titles or the giving of royal favor just because you have “blue blood”. I mean, who even has blue blood apart from Dodger fans?

In this Great Experiment called the “United States of America”, I believe we have to remind ourselves of the principles on which this wonderful, yet imperfect country was built. We are all created equally. We have no ruling class. We have no monarch or aristocracy. We each have inherited rights by our Creator not because of our family crest. We are a land of opportunity — one where regardless of one’s gender, skin color or social status we can have, be and do, all that we put our mind to.

So, even though Downton Abbey is whimsical and wondrous to watch let us not lose sight of the beauty of America and how her fundamental beliefs have created a platform for every one of us, to work well and live well and bless the lives of others. May our character and our competence always be the measure by which we are rewarded.

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