Merit is not objective or defined by clear-cut criteria: Sarah Goss

Merit is not objective & defined by some standard set of clear-cut criteria: Sarah Goss

Sarah Goss
Sarah Goss takes issue with the line ‘based on merit‘.

“I think it’s problematic when people say that recruitment, promotions, professional opportunities, pay rises, and other such decisions should be “based on merit”, implying that merit is objective and defined by some standard set of clear-cut criteria,” Ericsson’s head of innovation says. “The reality is, the way ‘merit’ is assessed and applied is generally not objective.  No organisation is a meritocracy until it has accounted for ALL of its inherent and unspoken biases.”

Goss has 20 years of experience in sales and marketing, nearly all of which she has spent with Ericsson. Her current role, heading innovation is one Sarah helped create herself.

She currently serves on the Advisory Board of In2Science, a STEM peer mentoring program that places university student mentors into low socio-economic high schools throughout Victoria.

And, on the side, Sarah is also a Founding Director at Umps Health, which uses simple technology to turn everyday appliances into smart appliances to help older Australians live independently.

She talked to Women’s Agenda about her career path, some of her favourite books, and how to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace.

Sarah Goss is a finalist for the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards in the Corporate category.

Our finalists are sharing some awesome career wisdom in these Q&As, as well as more on their back story and leadership journey. See our growing hub for this content here

And tickets to the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards are still available at the time of publishing, here

Has your career in this field been planned or has it happened by chance? What put you on this path today?

Creating, seeing possibilities, generating ideas, and fostering innovation have been a common thread in the roles I’ve had throughout my career.

The path I’ve taken hasn’t happened by chance, but nor has it been the result of a well-laid out plan.  The choices I have made in my career have always come down to what I’m passionate about, where I can learn, and how I can have impact.

I am fortunate to be in the role I am now as Head of Innovation for Ericsson.  It’s a role I’ve been able to jointly design and evolve with the support of my CEO.  We set out on this path together where he envisaged having someone on his leadership team who could help him to “see around corners”.

What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?

We’re currently developing a 3-day program of events to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the opening of the Ericsson Innovation Centre in Melbourne, which is coming up in October.  There is an interesting breadth of innovation-focused activities that are planned, which are being designed and driven by our Innovation Ambassadors who come from all different parts of our business.  This ‘crowd-sourcing’ of an event program from amongst our employees is something we’ve never done before, and I’m excited to see it come to life!

The best tip you’ve been given in your career?

Be yourself.

How have mentors, sponsors or some other kind of support system aided your career, if at all?

There have been people in my career who have believed in me, invested in me, and advocated for me.  These things – backed up by my competence and performance (to prove them right!) – have helped to provide me opportunities in my career that have supported my growth and advancement.

As well as your career, what other priorities do you juggle?

My partner and two children are my priority, and it is important to me to be present and actively involved in what’s important to them.

One regular commitment I have in my schedule is coaching my youngest son’s Grade 1 boys basketball team.  Wrangling a team of 6 and 7 year old boys every week definitely helps to keep me grounded!

I am committed to other volunteer roles as well, but where I like to give back professionally.  I’m an Advisory Board member for a not-for-profit organisation called In2science, an Industry Advisory Committee member for the RMIT School of Management, and I mentor a number of young women in the ICT industry.

How do you manage your wellbeing and stay at the top of your game?

I use my annual leave, I get out into the fresh air every day, I get a good night’s sleep every night, and I prioritise my partner and kids and spending time with my family and friends who nourish my soul.

Where do you currently get news and info regarding your industry and career?

CommsDay keeps everyone in Ericsson up-to-date on industry news.  For my own personal career interest in the topics of leadership, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurship, I follow Conrad Liveris, an employment and workplace expert whose insightful analysis always hits the nail on the head, and I’m also a regular reader of articles by Harvard Business Review, The Conversation, Inc., the World Economic Forum, Forbes, Fast Company and of course, Women’s Agenda.

Got a business or career book or podcast you’d recommend?

Chapter One by Daniel Flynn, Co-Founder of Thankyou, will give you a penny-dropping moment about the power of harnessing momentum.   I was so inspired by the Thankyou story when I heard it a few years ago that I arranged for every employee at Ericsson to receive a copy of Chapter One as an end of year gift. 

Hostage at the Table by veteran hostage negotiator George Kohlrieser will make you view conflict and influencing others in a completely different light.  The insight the book provides into human psychology will empower you in both your personal and professional relationships.

Speaking Out by Tara Moss is pragmatic and emboldening for women.  I met Tara at an intimate in-conversation dinner with a group of women in senior leadership where she spoke about much of the practical advice in her book.  Her chapter on self-care is particularly important.  I also recommend her other non-fiction book, The Fictional Woman.

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