Make sure social class is part of the diversity conversation


Haley Crawford, a master’s student at Ivey Business School, contributed to this story.

While gender and race are central elements in conversations surrounding diversity in the workplace, one key element has long been left out of the narrative. In his Harvard Business Review article “The Forgotten Dimension of Diversity,” Paul Ingram, professor at Columbia Business School and director of the Faculty of Advanced Management, explores the ways in which social class is often overlooked during these days. crucial conversations.

“For me, access to financial resources is probably the least important element in defining social class,” Ingram said. “There is social capital, which is the access to relationships that help you move forward, but I think most of it is cultural capital, which is knowing how to be successful in institutions, schools and institutions. organizations. “

Self-declarations of gender and race have become a standard feature of job and college applications, but explicit statements regarding social class are usually left out. How to measure this element which still seems somewhat taboo to discuss?

“I think a pretty powerful objective measure is whether a parent has a college education,” Ingram suggested. “If you look at the American workforce, 75% don’t have a parent who has a college education. A subjective measure would be to ask people, and most say they are working class or lower class. According to the polls, maybe 40 to 45% of people will say they are middle class or upper class.

From parenting to hobbies, there is no shortage of methods to better understand socio-economic origin, but societal norms have led us to be less inclined to ask these kinds of questions. Nonetheless, including these factors in the conversation about greater diversity could mean serious progress in understanding what a fully diverse workplace really means.

“These questions about race and gender are actually not as straightforward as you might think,” Ingram said. “In these cases, we use people’s self-identification and we ask them. We’re at a point where we’re taught not to assume someone’s gender based on outside cues, and that’s a position we’ve come to through a collective process. We haven’t done the same with social class, but I don’t see any objective reason why it can’t be done.

Not only is it realistic to use methods similar to those used for gender and race self-identification to talk about social class, but it is actually difficult to bring up one without the others. Understanding the intersectionality of the various components that define diversity, especially between social class and race, is a critical piece of the puzzle for creating more inclusive work environments.

“A key finding from William Julius Wilson, a sociologist, is that you can’t understand race in the United States unless you think about social class as well,” Ingram said. “The greatest predictor of a black individual’s career and economic performance turns out to be social class. […] I think we will do better in all of these categories if we are aware of their interactions. Otherwise, we get proposals and fixes in organizations that turn out not to really get to the heart of the problem. “

If companies follow in the footsteps of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young in the UK, who have taken the lead in ensuring that social class is not a barrier when recruiting, they will be giving themselves the gift of a group. larger number of successful potential managers. By replacing strict educational requirements with testing to give more applicants a fair chance, or by creating internal resource groups for employees to create equitable growth opportunities within the company, companies are opening up more opportunities. doors not only for employees but also for themselves. The opportunity to find strong professionals widens when considering a more holistic view of diversity, leaving fewer stones unturned.

“We could add a third to our stock of good managers,” Ingram said. “And that’s innovation. All of our lives are better if we do this.

A world of possibilities lies in the search for talent at all levels. Recognizing that social class should be part of the tiercé of diversity is essential for expanding the potential for greater leadership within organizations. Opening a dialogue about the socio-economic background of candidates goes hand in hand with asking questions about gender and race, while improving mentoring and inclusive training within companies creates bridges to leadership positions for people from all walks of life.

Companies that choose to broaden their view of diversity will only do themselves a favor, and by enabling the conversation about social class in tandem with gender and race, they will have access to the best potential leaders within a pool. truly diverse.

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