Diversity in the workplace must take social class into account

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TC: We recently came across this Harvard business review article that raised another category of diversity that we usually don’t talk about, but which has profound implications: class. Workers from lower social classes in the United States are 32% less likely to become managers than those from higher social classes. It turns out to be a global phenomenon, with a social class disadvantage prevalent in all major economies around the world. Reading this is not both a surprise, but also struck me for the novelty. Why isn’t the classroom conversation more prevalent when considering diversity in the workplace?

ED: That’s a big question, and I’m not sure there is an answer. It is true that while companies have multiple employee resource groups, very few (only Uber, according to the author’s research) have an explicit social class-based employee resource group. The conversation can, perhaps, be stigmatizing. People are uncomfortable talking about wealth, social class and growing up in poverty or parents who did not receive a college education, but these things can have real impacts on our opportunities. in life. It’s not a protected legal class for employees, which is probably also why we haven’t elevated the conversation in the workplace further. But it is important because the implications are real.

TC: Businesses would do well to ask, “How do people relate to people here?” And “How are things done informally here?” This is often where some of the hidden clues lie about how people are getting on, but also how people are being left behind. If playing 18 hole golf is the way business is done, then we can assume that many people, namely those who do not play golf, cannot afford to join a golf club and cannot afford to join a golf club. not regularly give four hours a month. to play golf — will not participate. More benign things like an office happy hour can also exclude people: people who don’t drink, people who might have childcare or senior care responsibilities, or people who might have a second job. . This doesn’t mean that we have to stop everything we do to build the culture, but we should pause and see who opts naturally and who may not. There are cultural clues to be had.

ED: I think noticing must be the right first step. We talked early in the pandemic about how the “water cooler” conversation would be replaced with a virtual version. Some were concerned about how to create cohesion without these informal mechanisms, and we backed off thinking that there may be a more transparent or efficient workforce that is not so dependent on these mechanisms. The question becomes what is not resolved in the actual meeting, so that the “water cooler” conversation becomes necessary? I admit it’s hard, though. It is less often overt discrimination and more often flexible structures at play in the spirit of “getting the job done”. We ask employees to recommend other good employees, but this too further strengthens the networks with which we are already connected and could accidentally reinforce exclusion. So, it’s not a switch that we can flip suddenly or easily, but noticing is the right first step. As managers, we can ask our teams “Would people different from us feel out of place here?”

TC: You and I, Emily, had these conversations about other talent that might be left behind because of cultural imprints. I reflected on my time in the military that above a certain rank it was difficult to take command if you were not married because there was an informal and ceremonial role that spouses had to play. It wasn’t illegal to be single, but the mental model of how a leadership role would be fulfilled just wasn’t there. Suffice it to say that these types of mental role models that are unrelated to performance potentially leave a lot of women, singles, people of color, divorced people, seniors, or potentially employees with backgrounds in the dark. low income behind them.

ED: And leaving people behind is not something we can afford. Our businesses certainly cannot afford it. We often remind leaders that to get started we don’t need to have all the answers, just the willingness to ask certain questions.


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