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Workforce Diversity Boosted by Recommending a Friend

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Referring friends and associates for job vacancies can help to create a diverse workforce, a new study from the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University finds.

Word-of-mouth recruitment, the most common way to fill jobs, has previously been thought to cause segregation at work: women tend to reach out to other women in their networks, and men do likewise.

But Professor Brian Rubineau has found a way to use word-of-mouth recruiting to integrate rather than segregate. Groups who recruit more actively tend to increase their numbers in their companies, even groups starting out in the minority. This finding can help various minority groups within companies, including those based on ethnicity.

Rubineau says:

“These findings give organisations a potential tool to achieve diversity goals. Most big employers track how people come into their organisations, so they have data on how many arrive as word-of-mouth applicants as well as other modes. By tracking the referral behaviour of their employees, organisations can get a better handle on whether word-of-mouth recruitment is furthering integration or segregation.

“Just as job ads often encourage women and visible minorities to apply, companies can encourage their employees to reach out to minorities within their contact networks.”

“Having a diverse workforce has been proven to have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line,” says Michael Bennett, managing director and co-founder of Rethink Group, a specialist talent management consultancy. “Any idea that can prompt organisations to do so should be welcomed. Many firms opt to formalise their hiring strategy in order to hire professionals from minority backgrounds, however it’s encouraging to see that something as simple as an employee referral can result in greater workforce diversity.”

This study, carried out with the MIT Sloan School of Management, was published in the journal Organization Science.

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