Ongoing Projects
Industry Partnerships

Research Summary
Adina D. Sterling

Network Inequality & Workplaces

One of the foci of the lab is the identification and remediation network inequality in the workplace, or inequality produced (unintentionally) by social networks and social connections. My and collaborators’ work has shown why social connections affect hiring, and that it is not just the case that social connections between employees and job-seekers lead to better information for employers (though see here, links are bolded), but that organizations benefit from how job-seekers behave when they are socially-tied to employees. While prior research suggests this influences labor market outcomes because members of historically underrepresented groups are less apt to have network connections, which I have also found some evidence is the case, my work has also demonstrated the important effects this has not just on hiring, but on careers and employment relationships more generally, affecting the social ties that employees generate after joining organizations and the turnover workers experience.  In doing so, my work demonstrates “direct links” or what are often hidden relationships between broader structures in society and the opportunities that exist in organizations.  The research I am doing suggests members of groups that might need broad access to social ties the most, such as racial minorities, women and those from less elite academic institutions, are the least likely to have them, and that the consequences of such are not just rendered at the hiring phase but have a lasting effect in the workplace.

Remediation Research

We approach our work as theoretical social engineering, meaning we identify sources of inequality and develop and advance sociological and organizational theory to engineer solutions to it (see more discussion here). One pathway we have discovered to address structural inequality is tryouts. When employers hire after tryouts this may close the gender pay gap among management professionals,  and among entrants in quantitative STEM fields.

In addition to tryouts, we also study practices that may or may not alter the use of who refers (see work-in-progress-here), and practices that  “create relational opportunities” to connect with organizational insiders such as  job fairs, and seek to understand if these practices help to remediate inequality.

Cultural Inequality & Careers

A second foci of is the identification and remediation of cultural inequality. Cultural inequality refers to norms, beliefs, and ideologies that devalue social groups that appear justified and legitimate. We give special attention to early careers, because of the evidence cultural inequality has a potent impact at this stage.  My work has shown the ways beliefs and ideologies affect the gender pay gap and the ways early job-seekers might search for jobs. We have also studied the way employers use cultural aspects like signals of commitment, in hiring decisions, and the ways they assess cues to provide culturally-infused assessments of candidates. 

Sociological Remediation

Tryouts are also showing promise to address cultural inequality. We have found some evidence they are important not just for job-seekers, for say skill–development, but employers because they may reduce cultural discounting. We do not know, however, how open to tryouts employers are, and are in the process of exploring this (see description here). We aim to undertake the 100,000 internships project at companies, to better understand the influence of internships as pathways to reduce structural and cultural inequality.

Additionally, we have projects underway that challenge the notion that cultural inequality needs to be addressed prior to inequality-reduction, in the context of STEM (see here), and in a set of planned experiments (described here), and also plan to explore these topics in the context of new hiring practices such as artificial intelligence (see here).

Call for Employer Partnerships

Remaking Referrals

A persistent fact in the job search process is that jobs are found through referrals. Evidence across a range of studies suggest women and racial minorities, owing to their lack of current relationships with whites and men, are less apt to be referred into organizations. We are currently seeking to partner with a few companies to “remake referrals” using a theory-driven approach. If you are interested, please email us.