Associate Professor of Strategy
Journal Article | Management Science | 56 | September 2010
The World is Not Small for Everyone: Inequity in Searching for Information in Organizations
The authors explore why some employees may be at a disadvantage in searching for information in organizations. The “small world” argument in social network theory emphasizes that people are on average only a few connections away from the information they seek.However, the authors argue that such a network structure does not benefit everyone: some employees may have longer search paths in locating knowledge in an organization—their world may be large.The authors theorize that this disadvantage is the result of more than just an inferior network position. Instead, two mechanisms—periphery status and homophily—jointly operate to aggravate the inefficiency of search for knowledge. Employees who belong to the periphery of an organization because of their minority gender status, lower tenure or poor connectedness have limited awareness of who knows what and a lower ability to seek help from others best suited to guide the search. When they start a search chain, they are likely to engage in homophilous search by contacting colleagues like themselves, thus contacting others who also belong to the periphery.To search effectively, employees on the periphery need to engage in heterophilous search behaviors by crossing social boundaries.The authors find support for these arguments in a network field experiment consisting of 381 unfolding search chains in a large multinational professional services firm.The framework helps explain employees’ unequal access to the knowledge they seek, a poorly understood yet important type of organizational inequity in an information economy.