Meritocracy is government by those who have "merit", usually described as having the necessary ability or experience to do the job. It is commonly used in FLOSS and other technical communities.
However, meritocracies tend to promote those who not only have the skills/experience, but are also outspoken enough to let everyone know about it. This pushiness/ego/self-aggrandisement is something that women are generally discouraged from doing.
The supposed principles of a meritocracy sometimes include:
- "Merit" can be easily measured, or at least agreed upon by the whole community.
- "Merit" does not include factors like gender, race, age, disability, cultural background, and hobbies.
- The people who have become leaders have done so because their technical skills and ideas are the best.
- People without "merit" will be prevented from rising to the top.
- People with "merit" will not be prevented from rising to the top if they want to lead.
- Anyone with the aptitude to learn technical skills should be able to pick up leadership skills with no problem.
- Complete mastery of the technical skills is necessary to take on a leadership role.
A number of geek women have blogged about problems with the concept of meritocracy:
- FLOSSPOLS, sexism, and why meritocracy really isn't (Nerdchic)
- Questioning the merit of meritocracy (Geek Feminism blog)
- Geeks, meritocracy, and gender (Scientist Carrie)
- Where meritocracy fails (Selena Deckelmann)
- you keep using that word (Garann Means)
- The Dehumanizing Effect of Meritocracy (Model View Culture - Coraline Ada Ehmke)
The journal article "The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations" empirically confirms the hypothesis that an organizational culture which promotes meritocracy results in greater inequality.
In the Proceedings of the Academy of Management, Gender, Race and Meritocracy in Organizational Careers finds that women and men have different salary outcomes even when they have the same "merit" (based on performance reviews).