Lasting Effects? Referrals and Career Mobility of Demographic Groups in Organizations

Lasting Effects? Referrals and Career Mobility of Demographic Groups in Organizations

By
Jennifer Merluzzi, Adina Sterling
ILR Review. January
2017, Vol. 70, Issue 1, Pages 105-131

While prior research has suggested that network-based hiring in the form of referrals can lead to better career outcomes, few studies have tested whether such career advantages differ across demographic groups. Using archival data from a single organization for nearly 16,000 employees over an 11-year period, the authors examine the effect of hiring by referrals on the number of promotions employees receive and the differences in this effect across demographic groups. Drawing on theories of referral-based hiring, inequality, and career mobility, they argue that referral-based hiring provides unique promotion advantages for minorities compared to those hired without a referral. Consistent with this argument, they find that referrals are positively associated with promotions for one minority group, blacks, even after controlling for individual and regional labor market differences. The authors explore the possible mechanism for this finding, with initial evidence pointing to referrals providing a signal of quality for black employees. These results suggest refinement to prior research that attests that referral-based hiring disadvantages racial minorities.