LinkedIn CEO Steps Down To Focus On Increasing Network Diversity

Jeff Weiner

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is stepping down from the helm of the social-networking company. He will be assuming the role of executive chairman, and one of his primary goals will be increasing diversity and inclusion in the LinkedIn networks. Weiner calls the lack of diversity in social networks “the network gap,” and he has a vision for how to reduce it.

Networks are critically important in the hiring process. For those who applied for a job on LinkedIn, the company found that those who asked for a referral from someone in their network were a whopping nine times more likely to get the job. It’s all about “who you know.”

But all networks are not equal. You need to have a strong network of people in order to reap the benefits, preferably some with seniority and experience in your chosen field. LinkedIn found three factors that impact the strength of a user’s network: where they grew up, where they go to school and where they work.

Specifically, LinkedIn data analyzers found, “if you grow up in a high income neighborhood, you are three times more likely to have a strong network. If you go to a top school or university, you are two times then again likely to have a strong network. If you work at a top company, you are two times again likely to have a strong network. If you enjoy all three of those advantages, you are 12 times more likely to have a strong network.”

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Those that have the skills, but lack the networks get shut out of opportunities. That’s the network gap problem that Weiner is trying to fix.

It’s not an easy problem to solve. Study after study shows that people tend to network with others who are similar to themselves. Researchers have found that people believe that similarity makes communication easier, makes our networks more predictable and results in us trusting our friends more. Therefore, we network with people who went to the same school, grew up in the same area, or look similar to ourselves.

How To Eliminate The Network Gap

In an interview last year, Weiner made it clear that LinkedIn doesn’t want its users turning their back on their current networks. “We’re not asking people to not help the people they care about the people that they know the people, they grew up with, the people they went to school with, the people that they worked with, we all are going to continue to do that. What we are trying to make sure people understand is the power of going beyond your traditional network, going beyond the person that we recommended you connect with, to create an opportunity for someone beyond your first degrees,” he said.

The biggest change Weiner envisions is allowing participants in nonprofits to network with the professionals who volunteer for those networks. For example, letting members of the Boys and Girls Club network with professional volunteers for that group. He described in an interview, “Imagine when we can identify the young adult that participates in that program and a member of LinkedIn who is volunteering, that when that young adult does a search for an apprenticeship, or an internship, or mentor, or someone they could ask how to get into the right school, we can establish that relationship. And imagine scaling that across every nonprofit, every NGO, every vocational training facility that’s designed to create economic opportunity.”

Another element of the plan is asking people to make the “Plus One Pledge.” That is, asking people to go beyond their traditional network to reach out to someone new. This might be responding to an InMail (LinkedIn’s email service) request from someone you don’t know or creating an opportunity for someone outside of your core network group. He also aims to make LinkedIn job listings visible to everyone who would like to see them, not just those in the network of the job lister.

One problem with plan is that most people likely think that they already have a diverse network, and therefore might be reluctant to participate in Weiner’s initiatives. A big game-changer would be to allow networkers to become aware of the lack of diversity in their own networks. It’s unlikely users will realize the lack of diversity in their networks unless they’re forced to confront it. If users could click on a diversity tab that would tell them how many members of their network attended their university (or a similar university), worked for the same companies or are from the same town, they would become aware just how homogeneous their network truly is. Ideally, members could find out the gender and race mix of their network as well, but it’s not clear if LinkedIn has that data available. Weiner has not mentioned allowing users to assess the diversity of their network as of yet.

Lack of access to strong networks has long been identified as a major contributor to the gender pay gap, the racial pay gap and the lack of women and minorities in senior roles in organizations. Weiner and LinkedIn have a great opportunity to inspire the site’s 675 million members to diversify their networks, let’s hope they succeed.

 

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