Word-of-Mouth Recruiting May Increase Workplace Diversity

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A new study, titled “Tipping Points: The Gender Segregating and Desegregating Effects of Network Recruitment,” suggests that recruiting by word-of-mouth may impact diversity in the workplace.

Word-of-mouth recruiting is known to be the most successful and widely used tactic to fill job vacancies. However, Brian Rubineau, author of the study and an assistant professor at McGill University, said this tactic can also be useful in diversifying the workplace.

Rubineau said what matters in the word-of-mouth recruitment process is referral rates. He pointed out that certain groups of people recruit more heavily than others. For example, immigrant groups often go from being minorities in a workplace to majorities because they have a tendency to recruit more actively within their network.

“If you have a group that is referring at a higher rate than other groups, then that group is — over time — going to become the majority, no matter how small it was to start with,” Rubineau said in a statement.

Though his study suggests that word-of-mouth recruiting will promote diversity in the workplace, previous reports have suggested otherwise. Earlier studies reported that word-of-mouth recruiting can lead to workplace segregation because employees naturally recruit people of their own gender and race.

However, Rubineau believes his research can actually help increase diversity by encouraging minority employees to recruit. The study suggests that minority groups are more likely to recruit others like them via word of mouth, while groups in the majority are less likely to use this tactic.

“By also tracking the referral behavior of their employees, organizations can get a better handle on whether their word-of-mouth recruitment is pushing the organization toward greater integration or greater segregation,” Rubineau said.

Rubineau said in a future study he plans to do more in-depth research on the diversity component of the recruiting process. He will be examining whether referral bonus policies can be used to help organizations increase the diversity of their workforces.