A “Dark Side” to Networking – The Social Costs
By Susan Qadeer
In the Winter 2003-04 edition of the Contact Point Bulletin, Cathy Keates points out the conflicted feelings of networking among Career Practitioners. Networking is one of the current mantras for Employment Counsellors. This is the activity that encourages job seekers to cultivate contacts and use them for securing a job. Many jobs are now found through networking and are seldom advertised. Is this a good social practice? As a career counsellor, I also have some reservations about networking.
Networking can be a good way for clients to get a start in a new career or to progress to the next job. The people, who can vouch for your competence or character, may facilitate your hiring. It could be a win win situation. However, an organization, dominated by one ethnicity, class, gender or age, is neither an equitable nor an effective organization. It also does not reflect the needs of the wider community. It is more difficult to reach the goal of a diversified workplace when networking is common in hiring practices.
A variety of people are disadvantaged by the practice of networking. Among them are persons of working class background, those from other parts of the country, the temperamentally shy and newcomers.
Networking impacts the workplace by detracting from the social goal of promoting diversity. Networking usually results in most employees resembling each other. We tend to be related and socialize with people like ourselves. Canada has some of the most multicultural cities in the world and has a reputation to uphold. That is, welcoming to all those who are accepted as new immigrants.
We know that quite a few highly qualified immigrants are not succeeding in finding work in occupations for which they have been trained. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that opportunities go to those with good networks. That is to friends or relatives of those in the position to hire. New immigrants, by their very nature, have very limited networks. They do not know and have little opportunity to know prospective employers or their friends. At best, they can network within their own communities. It is not a surprise that there are restaurants, taxi services and parking garages where staff is largely of one ethnicity. These are the “odd jobs” that reflect the networking success of people trained in medicine, engineering, information technology etc. This does not help new immigrants adjust to their new country nor does it contribute to the building of Canada as a democratic, meritorious society where hard work and expertise is rewarded.
Another downside should be obvious as well. All we have to do is think about how this works in an organization. That new employee, who comes through connections and not necessarily merit, may have his or her competence as well as loyalty questioned by other staff members. If the boss’s friend messes up, who will tackle this? You only have to work in such a situation to know its difficulties. This can impact how an organization functions and evolves..
I acknowledge that networking may be good for job seekers but believe that it may not be helpful to every body equally and may actually be detrimental to the workplace. Undoubtedly those well connected benefit most and others without such advantages have much less success. I am also concerned about what networking is doing to organizations, businesses and Canada as a society.
Networking resembles another “n” word and that is “nepotism”. Those individuals in a position to hire may want to consider supporting a more equitable process of recruitment in workplaces, one that is fair and where there is equality of opportunities. Networking as a strategy may have individual advantages for some but raises issues of organizational efficiency and the collective well being.
Susan Qadeer has been a personal and career counsellor with university and college students for 30 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org