Literature on the role of social networks in employment has shown that although most blacks, Latinos, and whites search for work through their friends and relatives, blacks are significantly less likely to find work this way. The contacts of black job-seekers are less prone to assist in the employment search, for example, by making a recommendation to an employer. Why don’t blacks help as much as their Latino and white counterparts?
With support from the Foundation, sociologist Sandra Smith will address this question by conducting an intensive case study of both front-line workers and those who hire them in two San Francisco hospitals. In addition to in-depth interviews, Smith will carry out a small-scale experiment to assess how language hinting at racial stereotypes influences the referral process. She hypothesizes that black job-holders experience anxiety stemming from the possibility that they themselves will be perceived negatively by their employer if the referral results in a bad match. In other words, black job-holders are more likely than their Latino and white counterparts to experience “stereotype threat” in the work environment. This new project marks an important extension of Smith’s prior work on the nature of job referral networks among the black poor, and will allow for a thorough examination of the contention that the African-American experience is determined by distinct structural and social-psychological factors.