Thursday, December 19, 2013

What You Know; Who You Don't Know: Does It Matter?


Affirmative Action is a very important term in the corporate, industry and business sectors in today's increasingly global market. In essence, Affirmative Action is giving equal employment opportunity – to test, hire, promote, or retain - any qualified individual, employee or applicant, without bias to color, religion, sex, or national origin, which “federal contractors and subcontractors are legally required to adopt,” so as to “create as level a playing field as possible - but level, not tilted.”


On the other hand, there is also a subtle mechanism that is said to be at play, and is said to be neither illegal nor illegitimate: social networking in order to find a job, as in the case of job-seekers; or looking for the right candidate to hire, as in the case of prospective employers. Others term this as “favoritism.”


This practice of networking has thus given rise to the common belief that it is “not what you know, it's who you know” that matters. Several pros and cons of this practice have been pointed out, from both sides: the jobseeker and the prospective employer.

Some jobseekers/observers see this practice of networking as somehow negative:
  • “I remember being startled that we were promoting a method that was clearly subjective and would tilt towards hiring based on secondary considerations...it implied to me pressure to conform.”
  • “Whites believe they should have priority over other groups to economic security, political power and basic goods and services, anything that threatens that priority is considered an unfair racial preference. In tough economic times protectionism becomes the order of the day - and social networking helps to facilitate that process.
  • “If an employee has a referral, regardless of whether s/he is the best candidate for the position, the referral usually gets the job. I've always found this an unfair practice.”

From the employer's/observer's point of view, there seems to be more rationilizing about it:
  • “When a valued and trusted employee comes to you with the name of a colleague, perhaps someone they've worked with in the past, and vouches for them, it rightfully carries some weight.”
  • “Resumes today are a mix of boiler plate and total fantasy. The private grapevine is imperfect, but based on decades of small business experience across several industries, it is wrong less often than resumes.”

While there are others that seem to evaluate the practice more objectively:
  • “Unless they really think about it, probably most white people are unaware of how unconscious barriers affect other racial groups. Most wealthy people are unaware of barriers and hardships affecting the lower economic classes.”
  • “The point is simply that social networks often end up amplifying inequality that already exists. It's only natural to draw on your own circle of contacts, and everyone does it. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does have the inadvertent consequence of reinforcing and perpetuating the inequalities that exist between different groups in society.”
  • “The majority of successful employed blacks hesitate to reach out and pull in other blacks fearing being scorned? attacked?...in some way being taken less seriously in the workplace for their actions. They do not network to the advantage of other blacks.”
  • “Networking is not illegal but can negatively affect Black employment rates because many White people do not have Black people in their social networks and White employers frequently use their networks to fill positions.”

Yet, there seems to be also some silver lining behind the cloud of resentment or frustration that calls for challenging this practice, or the way of looking at it, to render it more beneficial for both job seeker and employer.
  • “Moving to consensus on more equitable redistribution of jobs and wealth will require confronting the myth of meritocracy and the role of privilege in sustaining status.”
  • “Instead of the usual progressive whine of 'unfair' how about some concrete proposal to fix the situation?”

More positive concrete actions are suggested, in support of networking:
  • “One of the ways affirmative action can make an impact is by allowing blacks and other less privileged groups to enter networks that they would otherwise be excluded from. This has the potential of a very positive cascading effect for the individuals affected, allowing them to enter new networks that could drastically impact their career prospects for the rest of their lives.”
  • “Sure there's favoritism against Blacks, but Blacks can emulate what Asian-Americans have done successfully -open and run millions of successful small businesses. Asian-Americans have massive sources to finance their start-ups; successful Black businesses need to create non-traditional funding sources and incubation for aspiring Black entrepreneurs.”
  • “There are good job opportunities out there for African-Americans, but they need to branch out and expand their networks to find them.”

Most interestingly, these perhaps are times that call for more boldness or creativity on the part of jobseekers, whether minority or Whites, if they do indeed have the talent and skills. As one said, “If you're waiting to be hired, you're missing the boat. Hire yourself. "Getting a job" isn't the right answer any more.”


Thus, “what you know” will rightfully regain credibility and respect and become one's premium selling point: “Increasingly, your job is what you create yourself.” In this way, “who you don't know” does not truly matter anymore, for while it is true that “social networking is an important part of it, but it is not all of it. If you can't do the job, you won't last in this economy.”


On the other hand, diversity employers need to be on the lookout for more real talents out there in the marketplace, and go beyond asking their usual network of people “they know.” “Who you don't know” should become a priority for corporate diversity recruiters, as they branch out more - trying to go as far out of their way - in search of people who can do “what they can do.”


Organizations who are indeed dedicated to diversity should by all means exhaust all means and efforts to reach out to the minority population. “In the network's strong DESIRE to include minorities, do they advertise to them directly?

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