Qualifications. Certificates. Diplomas. Degrees. Pieces of paper to hang on the wall (or file away digitally). We list them out on our CVs, our LinkedIn profiles. They are demanded on application forms. On job descriptions. And we use them as filters. Filters to keep people out. They are a pass to get to the next step in the process.
They also tend to cost money. In some cases, a LOT of money. And we tend to attribute more value to the piece of paper that costs more money than to one that costs less. This often makes as much sense as judging someone’s ability to drive based on the cost of the car they drive.
More than anything these papers are signals. Signals of which club you belong to.
However, they also exclude and keep people out.
Many aid organisations are fill their leadership positions with people of the paper. People who have a certain qualification. We somehow believe having the paper signals experience.
Here’s the thing. Most degrees teach theories, concepts, and ways of thinking about a topic. Very few teach how to lead, how to build teams, how to make decisions, how to deal with difficult situations. Most degrees deal with concepts, not people. However, what we know from leadership is that it is 90% about people, not concepts. And the qualifications that are more conceptual are viewed as more valuable than those without (i.e. apprenticeship programme, etc.).
And another thing. Most aid organisations are filled with brilliant, passionate, experienced people who know the operating context like the back of their hand. But they don’t have a piece of paper from a fancy university. It’s not that they don’t have the knowledge, it’s that they don’t have the paper to tell others they have the knowledge. Therefore we overlook them. We do not consider them.
We create filters with good intent. Often in the name of ‘efficiency’. And we need some way of dealing with the thousands of applications.
However, if we want greater diversity in our leadership teams, in our board rooms. Perhaps we need to change the filters we use.
Thank you to Sonja for inspiring this post