• Ellen

It's not "what" you know, it's "who" you know: the importance of networking in the age of #BLM

A group of hands belonging to people of all different races and skin colors, reaching for a common goal
Networking for diversity

As a new business owner, I've been wanting to put a diversity statement on my website pledging that I would do my best to partner with and hire (should the chance arise) BIPOC: black, indigenous, people of color.


Then, I started thinking through my list of contacts from the past 15 years of work in media production, content creation, marketing, and communications and I realized there's a real problem.

I barely know any non-white writers, web designers, graphic artists, videographers, and communicators.

When time is of the essence - as is always the case when performing work for a client - I would reach out to people I know with these skills and easily find someone to take on the work. But I wouldn't be adding any diverse perspectives to the conversation. I wouldn't be giving an opportunity for credit and exposure to a person of color. Because, despite my desire to do just that, my network simply doesn't include a lot of folks that look different than me.


Why does it matter?


The role our social networks play in finding jobs and progressing through our careers cannot be overstated. Studies say that anywhere between 70% - 85% of positions are filled by someone who is already in our network. My personal experience proves the point even more:

  • The first 8 years of my career, and every promotion I received in that time, can be attributed to meeting the right person as a recent college grad and production intern.

  • When I became a hiring manager myself, I reached out to my network to find a talented intern, who I then hired on full-time, who then took my job when I moved on from the company.

  • When I opened my own business just 3 weeks ago, I immediately scored customers from my large pool of friends and former colleagues who knew my work already.

  • On the flip side, when I moved to a new state (where I knew no one) and tried to restart my career in corporate communications after spending 8 years in television production, it took me 9 months to find an appropriate job. Let me repeat that: when I moved to where I had no network, a person with a degree from NYU and 8 years of experience working on nationally airing cable programs had to take a job at a grocery store (making sushi) and answering phones at a call center because I couldn't get hired in my field for 9 months.

When I perform an uncomfortable thought experiment, in which I imagine myself to not be a very privileged white woman with a college degree, with college-educated parents who made enough money to always provide a safety net if I needed one, it becomes painfully clear to me that my professional success is likely more to do with being in the right place at the right time and knowing (and having access to) the right people, than it is to any special talents.


Sure, I'm talented. I'm great at what I do. And so are every single one of the dozens of professionals I would reach out to if I needed something I couldn't do myself. But how many other, equally talented people are there out there, who I am not connected to, and who are not white? What opportunities for income are they missing out on because people like me keep promoting and giving work to the people we are comfortable with, who happen to look just like ourselves?


I know I'm not the only one with this experience. I'm not the only liberal white person who would say "I'm going to do my best to hire BIPOC" and still never do it because I don't actually know any in my line of work. That's why this issue is "systemic."


It's not "my fault" that I don't have a long list of black or brown professional colleagues. My workplaces have been largely absent of them.


Why?


Because of people like me who didn't have a large network of black or brown colleagues to draw from when a position came open.


One concept I see white people struggling with a lot right now is the idea that we still have a responsibility to fix things, even if they aren't our fault.

And, again, the systemic part of the problem is that it's not just me: one person who hires people she knows, who happen to come from the same culture and skin color as herself. It's that this is the way it's been for literally hundreds of year.


My parents benefited from the system where they were given opportunities because of who they knew. So did their parents. I can't really go back further than that, personally, because my great grandparents arrived on a boat from Russia and likely struggled because they didn't know anyone here and didn't speak English. But I can tell you one thing: they didn't struggle based on the color of their skin or because they weren't allowed to buy a home or accumulate wealth.


I'm putting this out there because I want to change things. I want to broaden my network so next time I need to contract or hire someone, I can look through my diverse list of professional connections and see who is the best fit for the work without being limited to a sea of white faces.


Please don't comment to tell me how wonderful this is. This isn't a heroic act. It's one small step I can personally take in my journey to be the best ally I can be. On the other hand, if this post speaks to you, please do:

  • Share it with others.

  • Tag a professional in your network that I should meet.

  • Make personal introductions between me (and your other white colleagues) and people of color in your network.

  • Pledge to actively broaden your personal talent pool so that when you "cast a wide net" it can actually "catch" someone who isn't just like you.

"In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist." - Angela Davis

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