A study a few years ago from Penn State came to the fascinating conclusion that the increasing political polarization of society is affecting our mobility. The last few years have seen a clear divide emerge between the politics of big cities, and those of rural regions, and the study suggests that this ideological divide may be discouraging many people from making the rural-urban migration.
“We found that the places that were most likely to exhibit same-party preference in movement are counties that are politically extreme,” the researchers explain. “What we saw was that movement from very Democratic or very Republican counties tended to be isolated to migration to other counties that are politically similar.”
Research from the Kellogg School suggests that political differences might also have an impact on our careers once employed by a firm. The researchers find that our political views have a distinct impact on our careers, including whether we’re hired for a job or not.
In some ways, this makes sense, as the Penn researchers found, politics plays a part in where we live but also increasingly who we’re friends with and the people we date. It stands to reason, therefore, that it would play a role in our professional lives too, especially when companies place such an emphasis on culture and social cohesion at work.
The study found that business owners at small and medium-sized firms are much more likely to hire someone if they’re also members of the same political party as them. This also translates into benefits when they are hired, including better pay, more promotions, and a longer average tenure with the firm.
Indeed, the impact was so strong that the study found that it was more influential on our career outcomes than any other factor, including our gender, our race, or our skills. The phenomenon was so striking that workers were 50% more likely to belong to the same party as their employer than one would expect if they were randomly assigned.
What’s more, employees who were “politically aligned” were, on average, paid nearly 4% more than their nonaligned peers, and were also more likely to get promoted. Sadly, this political concentration appears to be worsening.
Research from Harvard Business School suggests that executive teams are growing more and more partisan. The researchers looked at the political allegiances of bosses across America and found that 69% align themselves with the Republicans, versus just 31% with the Democrats. The analysis revealed that the likelihood of partisanship grew by around 7.7% between 2008 and 2020. What’s more, this trend was around twice that seen across the population more broadly.
The Kelloggs research suggests that this growing partisanship at the top of our organizations is highly likely to be trickling down across the workforce. This is worrying, as while research from ESMT suggests we increasingly want our leaders to be politically and socially active, this is perhaps not quite what we had in mind.
Does it matter?
This political homogenization is likely to have a significant impact on the workplace. A few years ago research from University College London found that it is making us poorer judges of talent.
The research found that when we know the political leaning of our colleagues, we tend to rely heavily on those with the same political identification as ourselves rather than relying on the skill level of the people in question.
“When we examined participants’ impressions of the co-players we found they overestimated how good the politically like-minded were at the shape categorisation task. This misperception drove the participants to seek advice from the politically like-minded,” the researchers revealed.
This was followed by research from the University of Chicago, which showed that politically diverse teams were usually more effective. The researchers examined contributions to over 200,000 Wikipedia pages to explore whether contributions from politically diverse people resulted in higher quality pages than more partisan teams.
“This study doesn’t say we can always get along,” the authors explain. “But if we’re diverse along political lines, it actually means that we bring separate perspectives, and when we’re able to work together, then we’re able to produce a more complete and balanced perspective. If we’re imbalanced, then this study also suggests how bad it can be.”
So, while it may be prudent for job seekers to keep politics out of their resume as much as possible, it’s also beholden on managers to do a much better job of ensuring their decisions are not clouded by their political sensibilities.
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