Bias in the referral process



In this paper, we begin a novel investigation on the career limitations women may experience by considering the influence of the indirect network through the referral process. More specifically, the role of referring brokers, i.e., individuals who connect two previously unconnected individuals, is studied (cf. Obstfeld, 2005; Khattab, van Knippenberg, Nederveen Pieterse, & Hernandez, in press). We investigate how gender of the referral seeker influences the broker’s decision with whom to connect the seeker. In this decision-making process, the broker attempts to recall the connections that are likely most useful to the seeker. However, cognitive constraints inhibit individuals from recalling a complete and accurate perception of the social network surrounding them (Brands, 2013). Instead, individuals tend to recall a subset of their network connections that is influenced by individual and contextual factors (e.g., Smith, Menon, & Thompson, 2012). Here, we suggest that the demographic characteristics of the seeker are contextual factors that influence which subset of the broker’s social network is recalled. Specifically, we suggest that the gender of the seeker is likely to be similar to the gender of the referral. The preliminary results of our survey study support our hypothesis and show that, after controlling for the gender composition of the broker’s social network, a broker is more likely to refer seekers to referrals of the same gender. In sum, this investigation shows how the use of indirect connections to enhance career and work outcomes can be different for women compared to men.