Look Around: Is Your Social Circle Holding You Back Professionally?

4 Comments
May 7, 2013 ‐ By Charing Ball
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Well it seems that if you are poor and black, your cousin CiCi and uncle Tookie might not be doing you any favors in helping you with your professional aspirations.

That’s according to Nancy Ditomaso, who writes for the New York Times that black unemployment, which is holding steady at over 13 percent, may have more to do with favoritism than actual racial discrimination. She writes:

Favoritism is almost universal in today’s job market. In interviews with hundreds of people on this topic, I found that all but a handful used the help of family and friends to find 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them.

In this context of widespread networking, 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.”

Ditomaso, then goes on to say that:

“The interviewees in my study who were most angry about affirmative action were those who had relatively fewer marketable skills — and were therefore most dependent on getting an inside edge for the best jobs. Whites who felt entitled to these positions believed that affirmative action was unfair because it blocked their own privileged access.”

And this is exactly why affirmative action is still necessary.

This is also the reason why networking is also important too. As Ditomaso points out in the piece when you are poor and black, you tend to only network with other poor and black folks, which means that the odds that your network would be able to connect you to the right opportunities, particularly ones that will enable you not to be poor anymore, are relatively slim. To Ditomaso’s point, connections are how most folks nowadays get jobs. That’s because the vast majority of job openings are not advertised – or at least not the good ones. And the only way to tap into the underground job market is if you, for the lack of a better term, have a hook-up.

For instance, the last job I held came about from responding to an advert for another position within the same company. When the interviewer called me, it was actually someone, who I had previously collaborated in a professional manner. Not only did she know me but was already familiar with my work and instead of the one position, which didn’t fit my qualifications exactly, she hipped me to another, more appropriate position, which hadn’t even been posted yet. Thinking back throughout my life, there are no shortage of opportunities, which I received from the assistance of my social network.

Even if you are not into those prefabricated and stuffy wine and cheese networking events, which I am certainly not into, folks should still be out there, meeting people. The last few opportunities I have received usually came by way of meeting people at events outside of the whole professional-building capacity. Like at art gallery exhibition openings; or book and panel discussions; or through volunteer opportunities. The point is that even if you were not born into more affluent social networks, you can obtain them by adopting a lifestyle in which you are open to new and diverse experiences. And I’m not talking interracial but also intra-racial as well.

I can say from personal experience that networking in circles outside of the ones in which I was raised has helped me tremendously when I was first started out in my professional career. It was my secondary network, which I begun to develop at Virginia Union University (an HBCU), which hipped me to the professional career fairs and opportunities. And it was the secondary network of black professionals, many alum and other VUU-connected folks, who just wanted to help me, which lead to my first official job interview post-graduation. Without the network outside of my family and friends, I doubt highly that those professional doors would have been open to me. Although I love my family to death, they just don’t have that sort of social capital.

With that said, it was my great-grandmother, who never finished high school, that gave me money towards outfits to wear for my job interviews. And it was my grandmother, a woman who worked in a candy factor for most of her career, that lent me her old beat-up Ford Focus to get myself around to these interviews. And it was my homie, a maintenance employee at one of the major hotel chains, who got me the friends and family “discount” on a room for those interviews that were far away from home. Even without having the appropriate connections to get me in the door, my network of family and friends were going to use whatever resources they had to ensure that I was well equipped when I walked through that door.

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  • Toya Sharee

    This article is so on point. I am not saying favoritism is fair by any means, especially when it means unqualified people have the advantage in professional positions solely based on who they went to happy hour with, but the truth is you change your circle you change your life. You don’t have to go tossing back cocktails and kissing the behinds of people you otherwise don’t respect or like, but many of my peers are hesitant to engage with people who they aren’t comfortable with or intimidated by and would rather spend their free time with the girl holding down the perfume counter. She may be your bestie but you limit your connections when you spend ALL of your time with people who aren’t out there grinding, networking, seeking and creating opportunities. You don’t have to abandon your friends, but if you hope to get anywhere to have to get out of your comfort zone and make room for movers and shakers in your social circle.

  • Toya Sharee

    This article is so on point. I am not saying favoritism is fair by any means, especially when it means unqualified people have the advantage in professional positions solely based on who they went to happy hour with, but the truth is you change your circle you change your life. You don’t have to go tossing back cocktails and kissing the behinds of people you otherwise don’t respect or like, but many of my peers are hesitant to engage with people who they aren’t comfortable with or intimidated by and would rather spend their free time with the girl holding down the perfume counter. She may be your bestie but you limit your connections when you spend ALL of your time with people who aren’t out there grinding, networking, seeking and creating opportunities. You don’t have to abandon your friends, but if you hope to get anywhere to have to get out of your comfort zone and make room for movers and shakers in your social circle.