In Case You Missed It: Dr. Lauren Rivera’s Fascinating Insights Into Social Class Bias in Hiring


Recently, we welcomed Lauren Rivera, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the author of Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs as our Signature Seminar Series presenter. Dr. Rivera shared her insights and advice on How On-Campus Recruiting and Cultural Fit Are Ruining Your Diversity and Recruitment Efforts.

In case you missed it…here are some highlights:

What Happened to the American Dream?

We like to think that America is the land of opportunity and anyone, no matter his or her background, social class, race or gender, can be successful if they work hard enough. However, research shows that social class in particular affects how far and how fast you’ll climb the economic ladder. Bottom line: From one generation to the next, Americans generally stay in the same social and economic class.

Bias in Recruitment is Damaging Your Diversity Efforts

Dr. Rivera spent a decade investigating the recruiting and hiring practices of professional services firms and law firms and came to the conclusion that elite students from wealthy, upper middle class families are most likely to get the elite jobs, regardless of achievement. Additionally, it was clear that the hiring practices of these firms were detrimental to diversity efforts and ultimately the financial wellbeing of the firms.

Three Factors Harming Your Diversity & Recruitment Efforts

  1. By limiting your recruitment efforts to on-campus recruitment at elite universities, the game is rigged towards students with high parental income and education at the most expensive institutions. You are therefore completely missing top students at less elite universities who may be just as qualified but often are from lower income families. Interestingly, at many firms, hires from the most elite schools are not staying long term, and therefore, are costing firms more money in recruiting and training costs.
  2. By placing too much emphasis on extra curricular activities, you are indirectly selecting candidates who mirror the interviewer and most often come from families of high social class. Participation in structured, leisure-oriented extracurricular activities is highly skewed toward students from affluent families. On top of this, many recruiters favored candidates who played expensive Ivy League sports often associated with white and upper middle class families (e.g., lacrosse, field hockey, squash, crew). Ultimately paid jobs and caregiving, most often associated with less affluent candidates, are devalued.
  3. By stressing “cultural fit” in the interview process, interviewers are given the opportunity to be subjective and select candidates with whom they are most comfortable and who are most like them over those who perform best or will stay long term. Since the majority of the hiring is done by white men from privileged backgrounds, the majority of the new hires at elite firms end up being people who have cultural and experiential similarities with this group.

So what can you do to change this?

– Admit there’s a problem.

– Conduct on-campus recruiting at Universities that have high levels of academic achievement as well as diversity.

– Emphasize achievements and accomplishments in candidates over prestige.

– Place a higher value on resumes with paid employment and care giving.

– Decrease the emphasis on extra curricular activities.

– Define your organizational culture and make sure it aligns with your business goals.

– Create a structured interview system with procedures and checklists.

– Create a scoring rubric that all interviewers must follow.

For more details on Dr. Rivera’s research, we recommend you pick up a copy of Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs or contact her at

Contact the Alliance today to find out how we can help you with your diversity initiatives.