Favoritism and social networks not only will get you in the door but they will keep you employed.
Of course, this is not earth shattering news, or even news. But I thought I would blog about it because it confirms what most of us know. The culprit that reproduces inequality in the workplace is not necessarily the color of our skin, intelligence, skills, or talent, rather it's not having the right connections or being born into a well connected family.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a self made billionaire, calls it the "lucky sperm people." (It's tragic that someone who was so anti-nepotism is today an avid practitioner of handing out jobs to folks hardly qualified, but I digress.) It was wonderful to read Nancy DiTomaso's column in today's New York Times about how favoritism and social networks is what keeps Blacks (and I bet Latinos) longer on the unemployment line. The Rutgers University professor has researched this social phenomenon and her scholarly work proves that, as it always was, it's not what you know, but who you know. Dang it...
Here's the gist of her column in today's New York Times:
...the idea that there is a job “market” based solely on skills, qualifications and merit is false. Whenever possible, Americans seeking jobs try to avoid market competition: they look for unequal rather than equal opportunity. In fact, the last thing job seekers want to face is equal opportunity; they want an advantage. They want to find ways to cut in line and get ahead.
You don’t usually need a strong social network to land a low-wage job at a fast-food restaurant or retail store. But trying to land a coveted position that offers a good salary and benefits is a different story. To gain an edge, job seekers actively work connections with friends and family members in pursuit of these opportunities.
Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are “like me”: the people who live in my neighborhood, those who attend my church or school or those with whom I have worked in the past. It is only natural that when there are jobs to be had, people who know about them will tell the people who are close to them, those with whom they identify, and those who at some point can reciprocate the favor.
So how do you thrive in the timeless age of who you know:
Build social capital:
I have a friend, a very wealthy, maid-who-cooks-for-her-and-lady-who-lunches-kinda-millionaire-friend who wasn't born a millionaire, who once told me, "My husband collects art, I collect friends." She has made it her business to amass a contact list of people from all walks of life. It makes her socialite work a lot more exciting and interesting not to mention keeps her in the loop and profitable. She had a goal, to be on New York City's sociliate circle, and make it her business to socialize in that sandbox.
Social capital can be built in different ways, mine has been built on really enjoying the company of those I meet, whether it's on the line at Trader Joe's or work. I rally enjoy talking to people. If I connect, cool, but you won't have me sipping tea with an asshole no matter how much power this person had.
Build your network on mutual respeto and needs not so much on what you can get from this person. Another friend who is an extradordinary networker and has climbed the ladder of success adroitly has done it with grace. She befriends her subjects, makes them friends and ingratiates her loveliness into their lives. Her charm has gotten her everywhere. Work your skills as you walk your journey.
Garden in new pastures:
It's so easy to stay close to home knowing who you know, speaking the shorthand of your neighborhood and tribe. And unless your 'hood in where the halls of privilege and power reside, then you have to learn the lingo of where you want to be. Act until you become it. And go plant seeds in other pastures.
But don't forget where you come from:
As you journey to other social networks and are given opportunities and access, and a seat at a fancier table, remember to give back. You can do that via mentoring a young person, or a peer, you can do that by giving opportunities to individuals you know don't have access. Don't do what Bloomberg is doing and offer jobs at cocktail parties to unqualified friends.
And don't be vulgar
I don't really like attending fundraising galas and when invited to give keynote addresses or go with a friend, I always people watch. There are familiar faces and types of people who are social butterfly beats. They knockdown babies to get to the influentials and the powerful. It's something to watch. The sicko-phants are something to see. And some are present day community leaders, CEO and titled people. Good for them. Thing is, people pretty much see through the bull. So as you cultivate getting to know the right people, and building a social network that will help you succeed, make genuine connections. Don't praise people falsely--those you are praising - unless they have a huge egos-- will see right through your fakery. Flattery will get you only so far.
Build on your skills, network with grace, cultivate good people, in your tribe and outside your tax bracket. And keep knocking on doors.
There's the other philosophy, by Malcom Gladwell that espouse that being an outsider is actually a good thing.