Zero Discrimination Day: Social Class at Work

March 1, 202112:31 pm711 views
Zero Discrimination Day: Social Class at Work
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Zero Discrimination Day is celebrated each year on 1st March, highlighting the urgent need to take action to end the inequalities surrounding critical issues, including sex, age, health status, occupation, disability, sexual orientation, drug use, gender identity, race, class, ethnicity and religion. In this article, HR in Asia would like to celebrate the day by raising awareness of social class – why it is important and whether there are consequences of having class at work. 

What is social class? 

A class can be described as a relative status according to income, wealth, power and/or position, for example, low-class, middle-class, and high-class employees. Class is also deeply interconnected to race gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, location, immigrant status, and other factors. These factors make many people reluctant to talk about classism effectively. Even within the diversity training context, the subject of “class” can often be segregated. 

Acknowledging social class in the corporate worlds  

While some people might hesitate to talk about social class, it is important to discuss this matter, so we can understand what kind of environment that can promote or prevent conflicts among individuals. Here are some examples of how class could impact individuals in social and working conditions: 

  • It can influence people’s perception of power, money, status, organisational structure or policies, and management hierarchy that might jeopardize relationships within the workforce. 
  • It can create a sense of belonging or exclusion, depending on the comfort with others or familiarity with professionals or social environments. 
  • It can create a sense of exclusion from one’s team, family, or class of origin if one has changed social class through education, employment, or life partnerships. 
  • It can determine how individuals perceive their own self-concept, confidence, and perception of ability to take on certain responsibilities, roles, and career. 

J.D Vance in his book Hillbilly Elegy showed that migrants are often experiencing difficult situations due to their background. It revealed that 97 percent of migrants from working-class backgrounds said their social class background had affected their work experience. They experienced lower levels of belonging in the workplace, feel disadvantaged by lack of knowledge about ‘rules of game’ at work, and are less often seen as a ‘good fit’ due to arbitrary measures. 

See also: How Should HR Deal with Discrimination and Harassment Complaints? 

Despite the way class migrants are treated, they have unique skills that people who grew up economically privileged might lack. One study mentioned that a class migrant who is a CEO has a better sensibility to deal with risk and propel opportunities further up the corporate ladder. These class migrant leaders are also shown to be more effective leaders and are willing to put in the hours required without complaining, being more loyal to the company they are working with. 

There are other examples of social class, such as the elite class that often have better privilege in the workplace or the labourer class that is often treated unfairly during their tenure. This hierarchy is based on a person’s title, role, position, or function. Having such class in the organisation can cause some employees to feel ‘powerful’ and others feel ‘powerless’. If left undressed, this causes workplace conflict, jealousy, and an unfriendly relationship between coworkers. 

Social class transitioners: creating diversity class  

Researchers proposed that there should be “social class transitioners” in order to achieve real zero discrimination. Social class transitioners are individuals who can manage to progress between socioeconomic classes during their life, bringing in unique skill sets to the workplace. These transitioners can learn to relate to people in a more skilled way. They are incredibly helpful in groups and can understand people from all walks of life, despite the fact that they might have experienced exhausting and isolating events in their life. 

Employing social class transitioners will bring about change to the workforce and work culture. According to research, these social class transitions are able to: 

  • play by the same rules. Like those who experience working in different foreign countries, they are forced to reassess their own norms and values. They can learn critical value, like cultures, and are not afraid to step outside of their comfort zones. 
  • plot new movements. Social class transitioners are likely to expand their cultural toolkit as they experience working with different cultural background people. 
  • support team. As having exhausting and even isolating experience, transitioners are able to understand individuals from all walks of life better. But researchers warned that individuals who have experienced negative events might be reluctant in exercising their unique skills. Hence, employers are encouraged to draw attention from transitioners who have managed to climb the social ladder. Doing so will prompt companies to appreciate and support individuals equally. 
Diversity checklist for organisations 

While social class transitions are valuable to a company, employers can use the following question guide to reflect how a company’s policies, unwritten rules, or expectations of job performance can reinforce class privilege. 

  • Do recruitment strategies only focus on Ivy League or private educational institutions? If yes, doing so can inadvertently dismiss qualified and brilliant candidates just because of ‘good family class’.
  • Is culture fit part of your hiring criteria? If yes, make sure you define it clearly. 
  • Are you always doing referral hiring? If yes, then you will only hire friends of friends of your team. This will create a homogeneous team, not diverse ones. 
  • How is your practice on valuing your teamwork? Valuing teamwork will help those who often left behind but have good accomplishments be recognised. 
  • Is self-promotion part of your organisation’s success program? If yes, make sure you give each employee guidance on how to do it effectively. 
  • How is your work-life balance practice? You should offer them to both men and women. 
  • How do you select resumes and cover letters? If you only choose “elite resumes or CVs” who write golf as their favourite sport, you might miss out on excellent candidates. 

Finally, the key to discourage discrimination at work is to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for your employees and colleagues regardless of their class to really achieve zero discrimination. 

Read also: HR Knowledge: Understanding The Root of Discrimination