Your Next Big Investment? Make it Your Social Capital

Your Next Big Investment? Make it Your Social Capital
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Why you should care

Because if you only hire people you know, you miss out on hidden talent. 

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You can develop new marketable skills, up your retirement fund contributions, pursue a higher degree — these are all steps that could result in a more financially secure future. However, there’s one investment missing from that list: social capital. You might not have considered your social capital before, but you should. Education, learned skills and raw talent will have varying degrees of influence over your career, but it is social capital perhaps more than anything that determines how far you get to climb up the ladder — or whether you’re able to get on it at all.

So what is social capital? Well, it’s a bit more complex than how many “likes” you can generally accumulate on Facebook. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has discussed social capital in terms of three main categories:

Bonds: Links to people based on a common sense of identity (family, friends, people who share culture and ethnicity).

Bridges: Links that stretch beyond a shared sense of identity (colleagues, associates).

Linkages: Links to people or organizations further up, or lower down, the social ladder.

In an ideal world, everyone would have contacts with people in all three categories, and would have access to an endless array of opportunities as a result. In the real world, the problem with social capital is that people from wealthier backgrounds are predisposed toward having lots of it, while those from poorer communities don’t tend to have much at all.

Research has shown again and again that around 80 percent of job vacancies are filled via networking rather than job advertisements.

Even in countries where every child has access to education, those who come from poorer backgrounds are not as likely to enter a professional career as their better-off counterparts with the same academic potential. And that’s all because of social capital (research has shown again and again that around 80 percent of job vacancies are filled via networking rather than job advertisements).

But if it’s not ability holding people back, that means there’s a huge talent pool that’s not being tapped into. For this reason, I believe there is a responsibility to provide the social capital that students from poorer backgrounds too often don’t possess.

Because you can raise social capital. I was brought up by a single parent in what you might call a “tough neighborhood” in the United Kingdom. At school, I received very limited career guidance: It was suggested I could become a nurse, but never a doctor; a librarian, but never an author or journalist. None of my immediate family members had the experience, or the connections, to point me in another direction. I didn’t have a full view of the many opportunities the wider world offered.

I did, however, stumble onto a path that broadened my horizons. To help my family economically, I worked jobs starting at an early age. Through this experience I met people who saw potential in me and helped guide me in the right direction. But growing up, I saw many people just like me who had been less fortunate in their careers, because they hadn’t been able to make those same connections.

While there is no one solution to this complicated problem, part of my job at JPMorgan Chase is figuring out how we can help young people from low-income families make the connections that will bolster them ahead. Role models, networks, career guidance, mentoring, work experience: All these things make a huge difference. Our Aspiring Professionals Programme in the U.K., for example, aims to give less-fortunate teenagers routes into the finance and banking sector. It lets us meet people representative of the talent we don’t want to miss, while they get to see the great opportunities we offer at JPMorgan Chase.

Our programs aren’t limited to the U.K., though; they extend across 37 countries. It’s sometimes overwhelming to think of the scale of the challenge. But in the end, I find it rewarding to be part of a serious and long-term effort that is not only an economic necessity, but a moral one, too.

Carol Lake is the head of International Markets, Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase.

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