by Coco Brown
Originally published: June 7, 2017
The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you deal with favoritism at the office?” is written by Coco Brown, founder and CEO of Athena Alliance.
One of my prized memories from elementary school is how great it felt when the teacher picked me to take her erasers outside at the end of the day to knock off the chalk dust. To be free of the classroom for a few minutes, cloaked in the teacher’s trust and a thin layer of white powder—it always made me proud. This responsibility only fell to me a few times, though. There was another girl in the class—clearly the teacher’s favorite—who went home far more often with bits of chalk in her hair.
Classroom favoritism like this is disappointing, but when that phenomenon grows up, the word “favoritism” doesn’t quite do it justice, especially when it plays out not as a random instance of preference but as a systemic, in-group bias that keeps the top roles in organizations out of reach for entire groups of qualified people. This is the case among too many corporate boards, where those who already have a seat at the table are far more likely to invite favorite members of their own networks to fill any spaces that open up beside them. And these networks are often comprised exclusively of people like them.