By Meredith Howard | Assistant News Editor
There’s one piece of advice that I’m confident almost every student has been told at some point: network, network, network. It’s an unfortunate reality that networking is necessary to get your feet wet in many careers nowadays. However, basing hiring primarily on connections systemically harms minorities.
The vast majority of CEOs and executives in America are white men. While Black Americans make up 12% of the population, only 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are Black. People naturally gravitate toward individuals with whom they have something in common, so white male CEOs are likely to associate with and recommend, for the most part, other white men.
This perpetuates both the wage gap and the glass ceiling in America, which is the idea that women can’t break through to the highest economic levels in society because we are systemically prevented from doing so.
Networking culture is also especially harmful to Black and Indigenous men of color and doubly so to women of color.
Generational wealth gaps and the disproportionate number of white male CEOs likely cause both white women and people of color to have fewer connections to executives.
According to the Federal Reserve, “Black families’ median and mean net worth is less than 15 percent that of white families, at $17,600 and $138,200, respectively.”
This huge wealth disparity leads to a smaller proportion of people of color earning bachelor’s degrees. Contacts from college professors and internship advisers are invaluable resources in establishing a career, so people who either don’t attend college or do not graduate are missing out on important connections.
It’s much more difficult for women and people of color to achieve success in their careers because of these reasons. Thankfully, there are many examples of minorities who have reached these heights, but this is still a disproportionately small number. Citing examples such as Oprah and Obama doesn’t negate the fact that Black people and women of all ethnicities still have to work much harder to get there.
Additionally, basing hiring decisions off connections doesn’t serve companies well because they miss out on new talent. Someone who gets a job because they grew up in wealthy, privileged circles of people who work at Fortune 500 companies is not inherently more qualified than someone who wasn’t raised with the same privilege.
Individual students should still network and do their best to get their desired job post-grad, because like it or not, we are a part of a culture that requires networking. The responsibility to reevaluate the necessity or irrelevance of networking in hiring lies with people who make hiring decisions.
It makes sense that employers want to hire applicants who they know or have heard good things about, and those decisions are probably not made with ill intent. However, intent doesn’t equal impact, and employers should break the status quo by giving minorities a chance, even if they didn’t grow up in the same neighborhood as the CEO.