Using networks, such as friends and family, during a job search has long been recognized as an effective strategy, yet job seekers typically utilize same-gender contacts more than cross-gender ones. This results in men typically directing other men to higher-paying, male-dominated jobs and women directing other women to lower-paying, female-dominated jobs. Consequently, the existing gender divide in the workforce is further reinforced.
One might expect a reversal of these gender-based patterns, especially for college graduates pursuing their initial job searches. Developments such as the introduction of more inclusive curriculums aimed at social justice, co-ed housing (which fosters greater diversity in student networks), and the professionalization of student career advising could all be expected to foster expanded networks unfettered by gender bias.
A colleague and I had the opportunity to revisit some of these issues using data collected at my institution. In the Winthrop Poll, callers surveyed 963 South Carolina residents by landline and cell phones between September 19-27, 2015, with a margin of error of approximately +/- 3.2 percent at the 95-percent confidence level. The full methodology statement for the poll is available online: http://www.winthrop.edu/uploadedFiles/wupoll/September2015WinthropPollNewsReleaseAndResults.pdf.
Here are our initial findings, with an eye toward the implications for job seekers and recruiters:
1. Whom You Know Still Matters
We first asked a sampling of South Carolina college graduates (N=365) how they heard about their first full-time job after college graduation. The survey included not only recent graduates, but also people who graduated many years ago. In other words, some respondents were recalling information from a more distant period than others. We also asked several questions about each person’s search process.
We found that 25 percent of college graduates got their first job through informal sources, such as friends and family. This is not a surprise: The National Association of College and Employers’ (NACE) annual survey of college students regularly finds well more than 80 percent of graduating seniors use friends and parents for assistance when gathering information about prospective employers as they enter the workforce. More than 60 percent judge that method to be effective.
We did not find a significant difference in the type of job sources between cohorts under 35 years of age and those over 35. Approximately one quarter of the respondents said a family or friend made them aware of their first job. Having a personal contact resulted in their being hired more than half the time, while the source directly influenced hires roughly 60 percent of the time, regardless of the gender of the source.
2. Male and Female Graduates Find Jobs in Similar Ways
We also explored whether the results differed by gender. Although we found men were more likely to be successful at finding jobs through informal sources (29 percent versus 24 percent) and women were more likely to find jobs through college services (18 percent versus 10 percent), no statistical significance between gender and job source was achieved. Overall, we found the initial successful search methods used by male and female college graduates to be similar, regardless of age.
3. Persistence in Same-Sex Network Utilization
Although male and female job seekers may hear about their first full-time jobs in similar ways, researchers have historically found gender search networks continue to tend toward homogeneity. In other words, women inform women about jobs, and men inform men.
Our recent research indicates that little has changed. Male job finders had male job contacts more than 90 percent of the time, whereas female graduates had a male job information source only 43 percent of the time. In other words, men used women to find jobs in only 8 percent of their successful searches while women used female contacts in 57 percent of informal searches that resulted in their being hired.
Across the board, we found job contacts who helped prospective employees get hired typically worked in the same firm (57 percent) and intervened on behalf of the job seeker more than 60 percent of the time. However, we found something interesting: Female respondents under 35 were less likely than older female respondents to receive information about a job that resulted in employment from a man.
4. Rising Pink Tide?
The quality of female networks is improving for female college graduates. All female graduates in the under-35 cohort reported family incomes above $40,000, while roughly one-third of the college graduates in the older cohort had an annual family income of below $40,000 dollars. With the percentage of younger female job finders using a female source to secure employment surpassing 80 percent, we note a convergence with the overall pattern among males in successful same-sex job-finding dynamics. This finding provides some support for the contention that female contacts are more able to place other women in higher-paying jobs.
Clearly, this preliminary study has limitations. The poll and relatively small sample size do not allow for a powerful statistical analysis, and respondents may be flawed in their job search recollections. Additional information about college majors and starting salaries would further strengthen the research.
That said, job-seeking networks do not appear to cross gender lines any more than they did two decades ago. Same-sex networks are still ubiquitous. However, we see some indication that the quality of jobs that college-graduate women hear about from other women is beginning to improve. The employment success of female college graduates will be linked to the continued integration of women in the labor market both horizontally and vertically. Clearly, more focused empirical research on the “rising pink tide” hypothesis introduced here is needed.
First, employers that want to hire more women, especially in fields in which women remain underrepresented, need to recognize the persistence of gendered networks, regardless of education and perceived societal change. One strategy is to ask current female employees to refer other women for job openings.
Second, female job seekers should tap into both male and female employment search networks. As in the past, it remains true today that the future of young women must build on the successes of those who came before them.
Jonathan Marx is professor of sociology at Winthrop University.
David Meeler is associate professor of philosophy, Dalton Chair of Environmental Sciences and Environmental Studies, and director of the legal studies program at Winthrop University.
Scott Huffmon is a professor of political science, as well as the founder and director of the Social and Behavioral Research Laboratory at Winthrop University.