Does Sociology Hold the Secret To Diversity Hiring?

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Aug 22, 2019

How can sociology — the study of social interactions, relationships, and patterns –be the key to helping you create a more diverse organization? Look to what sociologist Michael C. Dawson labeled as “black utility heuristic” (what happens to one person of a race affects the whole race). African Americans, he suggests, are united because of “linked fates.”

This concept extends beyond one demographic: All minority groups that have experienced racism feel intertwined to a degree. A majority of Hispanics — 56 percent — who have experienced racial discrimination are more likely to say their fate is at least somewhat linked to that of black people. 

So, how does this relate to early-career recruitment? Here’s how — and why — it’s important for driving top diverse talent through your team’s hiring funnel. 

What ‘Linked Fate’ Means Today Compared to Previous Generations

For diverse Baby Boomers and Gen X, linked fate was a driving force behind their careers. Margaret Spence, president/CEO of C. Douglas & Associates (and a fall speaker on hiring women), says, “My generation and the ones who came before me felt the burden of our entire race on our shoulders, so we had to prove we belonged at companies. We were given the opportunity, so we couldn’t mess it up for those coming after us, even if we were placed in untenable positions. The evolutionary hope is that we can now stand as individuals as we represent the collective group.”

This feeling is less pronounced among millennials and Gen Z for a variety of reasons. Early-career candidates today view linked fate differently: If your company doesn’t accept them, then they don’t accept the company. Organizations that aren’t inclusive create a revolving door of diversity hiring: Employees excitedly join a team, they feel victimized by their superiors, they quit, and then your organization has to start from scratch.  

While this is a major issue, it’s just one part of how this sociological concept can help you better recruit top diverse talent.  

Provide a Tangible Example Of Professional Growth

To turn a qualified diverse candidate into an employee, potential workers use linked fate: They need to see a concrete example of someone similar to them succeeding, so they know they can do it, too. A diverse management team is a great way to give this tangible example of professional growth. 

There’s also a way you can simultaneously improve your early-career recruiting and representation in management.

Mentorship Programs Improve Acclimation — and Representation in Management 

Currently about 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a mentorship program. These initiatives provide professional and personal growth opportunities, something that early-career candidates care about. According to a Heidrick & Struggles survey, an overwhelming majority — 77 percent — said a mentorship program is either very or extremely important to them.   

This opportunity has high involvement among non-white male workers: The H&S survey found that 74 percent of minority employees participated in a formal mentorship program. Spence believes that mentorship programs are vital to an employee’s success — diverse and otherwise. 

“These programs help people get through the professional bellwether curve. Everyone throughout their career has moments where everything they do goes well, and dips where they feel self-conscious about their abilities. During the highs, companies easily keep employees. During the lows, organizations see employee turnover. It’s the mentor’s job to help their protégé make it through the valley,” she explains.

These programs not only benefit early-career workers, but also elevate the adviser. Minority representation in management in Fortune 500 companies increases from nine to 24 percent because of these initiatives. It’s a win-win for mentor and mentee.   

Black utility heuristic — or linked fate — extends beyond sociology. Your early-career diverse candidates’ fates are linked to your company’s management representation. It’s up to you to ensure your organization takes that responsibility seriously.

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