Why diversity never comes to some workplaces

Interesting study showing the effect referrals have on recruitment – not what you think:

Striving for greater diversity in the workplace – be it gender, race, age or experience levels among employees – is a long sought-after goal by business leaders looking for a competitive advantage.

Several studies show that companies with a diverse workforce are more likely to outperform others in the field. So, with so much on the line, why do so many firms still struggle with a lack of gender, race or age diversity within their ranks?

Brian Rubineau, of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal, and Roberto Fernandez of MIT Sloan in Massachusetts tackled that question in a recent study examining the role of recruitment techniques in workplace make-up and how employers can influence the process to ensure greater diversity.

Specifically, the study, published in Organizational Science, looked at word-of mouth recruiting, the most common way for organizations to fill jobs.

Using mathematical modelling, the researchers challenge a long-held belief that the referral method serves to preserve and, often, worsen job segregation. The theory, based on previous research, posits that people are most likely to recommend others who are most like themselves.

Women, for example, tend to reach out to women in their networks, and men do likewise. The same is thought to be true across other demographics, including age, experience, religion or ethnicity, says Dr. Rubineau, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour.

But the researchers found that workplace segregation actually has less to do with who is making the referral than it does with how often a referral is being made by a particular individual or group.

Unchecked, members of even the smallest groups will, over time, dominate. All it takes is for its members to be more active than other groups in recruiting from within their own community network.

“If you have a group that is referring at a higher rate than other groups, then that group is – over time – going to become the majority, no matter how small it was to start with,” says Dr. Rubineau.

Dr. Rubineau says employers can use the study findings to their advantage. By tracking referral patterns, organizations can map hiring trends and determine whether word-of-mouth recruiting is helping or hurting diversity goals. They can also urge underrepresented groups to be more active in suggesting prospective employees.

“Organizations can’t realistically eliminate word-of-mouth recruitment because it is such a dominate tool,” says Dr. Rubineau.

Source: Why diversity never comes to some workplaces – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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