rainbow.jpegFrom time to time, I along with many of my colleagues get unsolicited job leads from recruiters and from people in our social networks, both on and off line.

In most cases it’s clear they’re reaching out because of our experience and expertise, but are they also reaching out because of our ethnicity or race?

Turns out, that may be one of the main reasons.

A new study put out by Rice University - “Race, Place and Unsolicited Job Leads: How the Ethnoracial Structure of Local Labor Markets Shapes Employment Opportunities,” - found that:

“The flow of job leads changes based not on you as an individual but on the race of people doing your job,” said James Elliott, an associate professor of sociology at Rice University and co-author of the study.

In other words, jobs flow like an ethnoracial rainbow, perpetuating the make up of an occupation, a workplace.

Why?

“Presumably, this is due to a preference — conscious or subconscious — for white workers,” said Steve McDonald, an associate professor of sociology at N.C. State and lead author of the study.

Some other key findings from the research:

  • The results held true for workers of all races, even when researchers controlled for things like gender, age and the size of each worker’s social network.
  • Employers in white labor markets are more likely to use social networks and informal approaches to recruit workers.
  • And when minority workers do receive unsolicited job information, it tends to lead to employment where that type of unsolicited information then dries up.

“One of the things this drives home is that,” McDonald noted, “if businesses take diversity seriously and want to diversify their workforce, they need to look beyond their social networks for job candidates.”

These findings are important because they show that the more a job market is dominated by white people the more likely they use social networks to fill positions.

Given that that whites tend to have less diverse social networks consisting mostly of other whites (75% of whites, 65% of blacks, and 46% of Hispanics reported that every member of the social network with whom they discuss important matters is the same race in one key study) it may be that

1. these organizations prefer white candidates and so use less diverse social networking as suggested by the authors or;
2. honest attempts to give preference to coworker recommendations leads to increasing lack of diversity, especially if you have mostly white employees to start.

Either way it’s not particularly good news for minorities trying to break into job markets and workplaces that rely on social networks to fill positions. So what can minorities do?

First, they can dig deeper into their own networks by alerting their friends, especially their white friends, about their job interests, advised Kenneth Matos, senior director of research for Families and Work Institute. That way the whites they do know can be their ambassadors to all-white networks that minorities don’t have access to and carry those unsolicited job opportunities to a more diverse network. This is a great opportunity for allies to be involved by making sure they share the job information they get with their minority contacts to bridge these gaps.

Minorities also have to take the initiative to break into all white networks through things like introductions from the whites they do have in their networks and participation in activities that can create a bridge across racial divides. Participate in interest, occupational, and community groups that provide you conversational topics that make it easy to speak to people across racial lines. And that means not just joining a group in your neighborhood, or where you work where the people are more likely to just like you. You have to venture beyond your comfort zone and take the initiative however hard or unfair that may be, he stressed.

Yes, that could lead to a dead end, or you might hit a wall when it comes to getting into networks beyond your race, but that’s part of the process. “You have to acknowledge it’s not always going to work,” Matos continued. “The problem with the popular image of great networkers is we only see the successes, all the people they know, not the failures, all the people they lost track of over the years. To build a big network you have to talk to hundreds of people.”

Job seekers also have to understand the nuances of networking — how not to push too hard and when and how to tap your networks when needed. “The way networking works,” Matos added, “is you have to have some ongoing light connections with people so when you want to connect on something important it’s not coming out of the blue and they think of you when something appropriate cross their desk.”

In the end, blurring the rainbow of networking seems to be about persistency.

What have you done in order to blur the lines in your career?

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