Monday, July 14, 2008

The Problem With Word-Of-Mouth Referrals

I worked in an HR Department that was really into using word-of-mouth referrals to get new hires into the company. Word-of-mouth referrals were actually used more than looking within the company to hire employees or posting ads in newspapers.

The problem was that the referrals were always made by White staff and the potential new hires were always White, as well. As a result, the company was always bringing in White new hires and there was absolutely no push to add diversity to the staff. With about 150 employees at our location, less than 10 of those people were Black. And, we didn’t get close to the number 10 until a former African American employee filed a complaint of race-based retaliation and the company wanted to put on a stronger diversity show for the Office of Human Rights, who was investigating her case.

Compounding the problem of focusing on word-of-mouth referrals, my employer also didn’t post in-house notices of job vacancies. So, staff never knew when a job opportunity opened up (read: a potential promotion opportunity or career path change), unless they were told about it by a member of management. This was rare. And, in cases where this happened, White staff would be told to apply for a job opening and Black staff had no idea the opportunity existed to apply for the position. Most staff were being deprived of the opportunity to apply for any of these positions.

Behaviors such as relying on word-of-mouth referrals and not posting internal job vacancies may both be signs of an employer who engages in discrimination. According to the EEOC:

While word-of-mouth recruiting in a racially diverse workforce can be an effective way to promote diversity, the same method of recruiting in a non-diverse workforce is a barrier to equal employment opportunity if it does not create applicant pools that reflect the diversity in the qualified labor market.

If you believe your employer discriminates, these may be two areas to look at in order to show a pattern of problem behavior by your employer (selecting/evaluating new hires and promotions/in-house job openings).


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