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It’s who you know that gets you hired

Nepotism in U.S. workplaces

  • 77% of companies place a higher value on a candidate’s personal connections over their skills.
  • 68% of candidates are overlooked for a job in favour of someone with a better network.
  • Just 11% of organizations have clear measures in place to prevent nepotism.
  • 71% higher chance of promotion if you are ‘upper class.’ 


Nearly 4 in 5 employers (77%) prioritize personal connections over skillsets when making hiring decisions – with 68% of highly qualified candidates being overlooked in favor of those with better personal connections or networks.

According to a recent survey into diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, just 29% of employers said they value a candidate’s qualifications and skills in equal measure to the people they know.

An effect on employee workplace experiences

This type of judgment impacts employees significantly - 62% feel as though their progression opportunities are hindered, even though their skills or output qualify them for a promotion. 70% of employers admit that personal relationships also influence promotion decisions, with just 11% stating they have measures in place to prevent workplace nepotism.

Voices from the DEI survey respondents further illuminate concerns of nepotism:

  • “Bridge the divide between the working, middle and upper-class. A person who grew up in poverty that now holds a college degree is still at a disadvantage in a material-driven environment.”
  • “Make more of an effort to make opportunities available to professionals who didn't necessarily have the privilege of learning certain skills in their youth.”
  • “Stop using nepotism and hiring best friends. Hire people that can do the job.”


Sean Puddle, Managing Director of Robert Walters New York comments:

“As leaders, we have a responsibility to develop workplaces that thrive on merit and equal opportunities. These findings serve as a wake-up call for organizations to reevaluate hiring and promotion practices.

“Every employee, regardless of background, personal connections or class should be provided with the equitable resources and support that allow them to thrive in their career.”

Favoritism surrounding the upper-class

The study reveals a stark gap in career advancement between the classes - upper-class professionals have a 71% higher chance of getting a promotion than working-class counterparts. They also have a clearer vision of how to climb the career ladder, while 70% more working-class professionals are unsure of what they need to do to progress.

Sean continues:

“Our research shows that working-class professionals often feel neglected by managers - 1 in 5 feel their manager does not take the time to understand their personal circumstances.

“In the current hiring landscape - one of the most challenging in recent years - organizations are struggling to retain top talent. Our work into DEI underscores the pivotal role that inclusive workplaces play in achieving overall business success and retention. It is crucial for employers to proactively ensure that all members of their workforce feel supported, valued, and respected.”

Recommendations on removing inequitable hiring practices

Cara Collective, a workforce development organization which has moved people with employment barriers for over 30 years, offer insights on how organizations can create more inclusive hiring practices while promoting a more positive workplace culture.

Retention & advancement:

  • Create structured onboarding processes to equip employees for success in their role, including on-the-job training and 30-60-90-day check-ins to understand what employees need to be successful.
  • Develop team cultures that create a shared sense of belonging and an environment where all members of the team can thrive.
  • Communicate career pathways more clearly in every stage of the employee’s career journey.
  • Invest in career-advancing skill building and professional development.
  • Provide managers with resources, training, and incentives to support diverse team members.
  • Collect employee feedback for enhancing advancement opportunities.
  • Recognize and invest in motivated workers who are eager to advance and grow.




Key notes

Within the context of this press release, the categorization of social classes is based on the occupation of the chief income earner, following the outlined system below. Professionals in the social class banding of A and B fall under the upper-class, while those in C1 and C2 fall into the middle-class banding. Meanwhile, the D and E categories represent working-class professionals.

Occupation of Chief Income Earner

Social class banding

Reference in press release

Higher managerial, administration or professional



Intermediate managerial, administrative, or professional


Supervisory or clerical, junior managerial, administrative, or professional



Skilled manual workers


Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers



Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners and others who depend on the welfare state for their income



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