Intersectional Status Beliefs Transfer in Employee Referral Processes

Doctoral Candidate Name: 
Amanda Sargent
Organizational Science

Using employee referral programs is generally considered a best practice for organizations seeking top quality talent. However, research on whether or not these programs result in positive outcomes equally for all applicants is mixed. To data, most research examining employee referral programs focuses on how status characteristics (such as race and gender) of applicants can result in unequal outcomes (such as being hired or promoted) for applicants with different identities. Little is known, however, about the influence of referring employee’s status characteristics during hiring processes and whether or not decision makers’ biases toward certain referring employees may lead to different hiring process outcomes for the applicants they refer. Using Status Characteristics Theory and the theory of Status Beliefs Transfer, hypotheses were tested regarding how status characteristics of referring employees, namely race and gender, might lead to a transfer of evaluators’ status beliefs from the referring employee to the applicant and affect subsequent applicant evaluations. Four hundred and thirty-seven U.S. individuals with hiring experience served as participants for an online resume evaluation experiment where the only difference between resumes was the name of the referring employee noted at the top of the document. Referring employee names were selected via pre-test to signal the referrer was either a white man, black man, white woman, or black women. Results of quantitative analyses revealed a positive statistically significant difference in average ratings of competence, recommendations for interviews, and starting salary between referred and non-referred applicants, with participants rating referred applicants more favorably. In addition, a positive statistically significant effect of race, but not gender, was found in average ratings of competence, commitment, interview recommendations, and salary recommendations for black referring compared to white referring employees. Additional qualitative thematic analysis of open response data describing rationale for participant ratings revealed additional intersectional evaluative differences among applicants referred by employees with different race/gender statuses. Taken together, and viewed through the lens of intersectional theories, findings suggest evaluations of applicants may have been influenced by a status beliefs transfer process whereby the intersectional status characteristics of referring employees were transferred onto and used to evaluate the applicants they referred. Implications for theory, practice, and future research are discussed.

Defense Date and Time: 
Monday, May 16, 2022 - 10:30am
Defense Location: 
Committee Chair's Name: 
Dr. Jill Yavorsky
Committee Members: 
Dr. George Banks, Dr. Linda Shanock, Dr. Scott Tonidandel