Why We Need Men on Our Side

We know that most good jobs go to insiders, so in some way’s today’s New York Times article, “In Hiring, Friend in Need is a Prospect, Indeed” breaks no new ground. However, it is news that companies are actively promoting the strategy of hiring through referrals, with Ernst & Young aiming for 50 percent.

How does this affect the diversity of organizations in the long term? For people looking to break into new industries, it is challenging to do so without going back to school full-time. But for groups that are already underrepresented within specific firms, recommendation-based hiring presents an additional hurdle:

People tend to recommend people much like themselves, economists say, a phenomenon known as assortative matching. Mr. Topa’s study for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 63.5 percent of employees recommended candidates of the same sex, while 71.5 percent favored the same race or ethnicity. (emphasis mine)

Wow. Not only does that mean that mean that race and gender imbalances are in danger of becoming more entrenched, it means that individuals from underrepresented groups have even more hurdles to overcome.

This could be read as an argument for women who are underrepresented in the workplace to be even more adamant about recommending other women, and for everyone to be more conscious of their biases toward members of the same race and gender. But I would argue that we need to start further back than that and look at our networks.

Men still dominate powerful networks in business and government. In response to this, many women have taken to forming exclusive networks of their own. I am a member of several such groups (85 Broads, Levo League, Women in International Security), and I support their mission. But these networks by themselves have limited value. Almost every woman I have interviewed credits her first big break to a man who saw her talent and not just her gender.

If we’re ever going to make it to the top, we have to get out of that separate binder marked “qualified women” and into the same binder as everyone else. And the only way to do it is to network.

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