Humans are social creatures, and we like to surround ourselves with the familiar and comfortable. It’s just in our nature. Ever hear the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together?” This old-school proverb dates back to the 16th century, but it still rings true today. Essentially, it means that similar people tend to link up and assemble in groups. The sociology theory of homophily follows this same logic, which means “love of the same.”
Company culture is a term that you hear a lot these days. It helps to align everyone in an organization with the mission at hand, but it also tends to promote homophily. This, whether intentional or not, encourages the initiated to keep initiating others like them. And there’s usually not much room for anyone else.
It’s important to note that homophily is different from racism. Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a person or group of people based on their race. Sometimes, homophily is based on aspects unrelated to race. However, sometimes homophily can result in racist outcomes as people refrain from building the necessary social capital that enables one to see others past stereotypes and conscious and unconscious biases.
Racial isolation due to housing discrimination and America’s long history of segregation have contributed greatly to inequities in the quality and quantity of Black social capital connections and the presence and opportunity of economic mobility. Economist, Raj Chetty reminds us that low-income families are segregated into lower opportunity areas where the impacts of a booming economy are often never heard. Social capital is the connection to the “boom” when the boom misses your neighborhood.
If They Can’t See It, How Can They Fix It?
Modern-day human resources departments have embraced a shift to data-driven recruiting to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion, but in current practice, it’s done more to weed Black workers out than to let them in. Addressing these “Algorithms of Oppression” will require a diverse set of data scientists and analysts that the workforce system is instrumental in developing. I know that traditionally workforce systems don’t speak about homophily. But it is a topic that must be addressed, especially when studies show that up to 80% of jobs are obtained through connections. It’s time for workforce development systems to address who their participants know in addition to what they know. The truth is that two-thirds of whites don’t have any non-white friends. When we look deeper, White Americans have an astonishing 91 times as many white friends as black friends. For the average white industry stakeholder stuck in this scenario, redundancy runs amuck and it’s almost impossible to connect to those who are not normally in their network.
According to the Washington Post, only 8 percent of the highest corporate leaders are Black. Instead of being stuck in isolation, we can help both, these industry stakeholders and Black and Brown “Opportunity Seekers” link and hop via social capital building. Social capital building is not networking. Social capital is about quality, not quantity. Most large social networking sites and DEI efforts actually harm the social capital building process. Participants in these efforts
focus on building likes and completing workshops instead of investing in strategically
building quality relationships with people not normally in their network.
Do You Know Who is Not Normally in Your Network?
Social capital provides an effective way to jump great distances in social space, even when the space is at your own family reunion, company lunchroom, or recent Zoom session. Social capital is a powerful resource — but the reality is, not everyone has equal access to it. We may never be able to fully eradicate inequality in the labor market, but we can make it so that the labor market finds it harder to be unequal. Using the reciprocal power of social capital changes hearts and opportunities for both the giver and receiver. Who is who is up to you to decide.