The Dark Side of Networking

Thursday, 14 September 2017, 03:51:23 AM. “If one person gets a leg up, that’s a leg down for whomever else is competing for those opportunities.”
In 2012, Katherine Milkman, a professor at Wharton who studies judgment and decision-making, co-authored a study that sought to determine the role of race and gender in professional advancement. In order to do that, Milkman and her colleagues used 10 names that might be associated with a particular race or gender and assigned them to fictional prospective doctoral students. The researchers used those names to send identical emails to more than 6,000 professors asking to discuss their research and doctoral programs. The responses varied significantly based on the presumed race of the fictional candidate, and the study helped spark a public conversation about discrimination in academia. Since then Milkman has continued to study the ways people make decisions, and how those processes can be altered to promote equality. Her work has also prioritized exploring the kinds of biased decision-making that leads to the underrepresentation of people of color and women that plagues many professional fields.   I spoke to Milkman for The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On The Shoulders Of Giants,” about her research, and the counterintuitive ways that everyday networking can harm women and minorities. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity. O’Donnell: What biases have you found to be most harmful to mentorship? Milkman: Stereotyping, where we assume that people having certain characteristics—how they look, how they talk—allows you to make assumptions about...Read more
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