Not All in the Family

The American business and political landscape has no dearth of family ties. Look no further than the present occupant of the Oval Office or among many members of legislatures with family names that sound very familiar.

But in a nation that thrives on competition, using a brand family name to get ahead is unmeritorious and, to many workers, unfair. All workers or executives must rise by their achievements and not run into a "gene ceiling" in which bloodlines run thicker than good résumés.

That's especially true now as publicly held companies rush to infuse more independence and accountability into their operations. A recent report that the children of three Walt Disney Company board members were employed by the Mouse during the past year offers an example. That situation would violate one of the many corporate-governance standards set by the New York Stock Exchange in the wake of recent business scandals.

The new NYSE rule states that a corporate director of a publicly held company cannot be considered independent (a requirement for some board members) if an immediate family member worked for the company during the past five years. Disney reportedly plans a long-needed board shake-up as a result of this revelation and other concerns. Many companies with similar "all in the family" hirings can be expected to do the same.

In large companies, the likelihood of a relative exerting undue influence on the running of the firm may be minimal. But a larger point remains: Favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism should be on their way out in the workplace.

Many companies now have rules on office romances to prevent unfair promotions or firings. But American business is also coping with a rise in dual-career couples, many of whom are worthy workers. Carefully drafted rules can keep them employed but far apart in the corporate hierarchy to avoid such problems as a breach of confidentiality.

Preventing undue influence in the workplace by those with family ties sends a signal to workers that they will rise or fall by their merits. Nepotism has a long history in business, but as more light shines on this unfair practice, it will have a short future.

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