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Opinion Week 34

LinkedIn's #PlusOnePledge Is More Than Marketing, Less Than a Solution

Have you taken the #PlusOnePledge? It's not a silver bullet, but it's a tangible action that individuals can take to open up their networks.

Last week, LinkedIn doubled down on its’ Plus One Pledge, which asks LinkedIn users to connect with people they don’t know. This is a real change for a social networking company built on the idea of bringing your trusted real-life networks online.

The shift is motivated by a growing realization that insular networks—whether in the real world or online—tend to concentrate access to opportunity, power and wealth. By leveraging the power of technology to help different types of people connect, the Pledge takes a small step towards addressing the larger problem of economic inequality.

Research shows that access to networks can make the difference in getting ahead--from landing a job in the first place to getting a critical promotion. Yet, according to LinkedIn, access to strong networks tends to be determined by three factors: living in a zip code where the median is above $100,000 per year, attending an “elite” school, or working at a “top company” (as defined by LinkedIn, of course—not the only way in which the initiative is self-referential.) 

The Plus One Pledge encourages people who already have strong networks to connect with those who don’t...even if they don’t know each other. According to the LinkedIn website, the Pledge is:

… an intention to share your time, talent, or connections with people outside your network who may not have access to the same resources you do. 

Specifically, people taking the Pledge commit to connect in some way with a person outside their network, and offer them access to their own social capital. By accepting an informational interview invitation, for example, or introducing as aspiring job applicant to their firm’s hiring manager. It’s a way an individual can take action to level what we increasingly know is a tilted playing field.

Like more individual actions, the Plus One Pledge has its limits. It isn’t a substitute for the hard work of changing corporate processes like hiring practices, performance evaluations and board appointments. And there’s more than a hint of charity in the way the Pledge communicated, which is off-putting. I’d like to see more emphasis on the value the people with “strong” networks get out of building relationships with people different from themselves

But if the Pledge helps to make connections among people who normally wouldn’t interact, it will do some good. Intergroup contact theory suggests that just spending time around people who are different from ourselves can reduce prejudice. And any systematic, scalable way of opening up gate-keeping networks will create more opportunity for people from under-represented groups.  

In short, the Pledge not a silver bullet. And it is self-serving for LinkedIn in more ways than one (How are you going to meet these different people? On LinkedIn, of course!). But it is a specific action that each of us can take tomorrow. That is valuable in and of itself.

Perhaps most of all, it is refreshing to see a tech company acknowledging their own contribution to economic inequality, and taking even small steps to help correct it.

 For more, check out this blog post from Meg Garlinghouse, LinkedIn’s head of social impact, which cites more research behind the pledge. You can also search #plusonepledge on LinkedIn to see how people are reaching out.

Note: News coverage of the Pledge can imply that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner originated the Plus One idea, which I am sure is not his intent. I first heard about the concept through Meg Garlinghouse’s post in 2018, which credits John Gomperts. I suspect the roots of the idea go even further back than that.

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