Social class dramatically affects how we are treated at work

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Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia. Source: provided.

The assumption that Australia is the land of ‘fair go’, a society without classes of equals, is deeply embedded in our national psyche. Yet class is something that is rarely talked about.

Our new Prime Minister sharing her experience of being raised by a single mother on a disability pension in public accommodation is a remarkable acknowledgment of social class because of how little we acknowledge her in public.

It got us thinking about the myth that Australia is a classless society and, as I’m sure it was for many, reminded me how much social class has affected my own life.

It wasn’t until I became one of the first members of my family to go to college and then started my career in the 1990s that I realized the opportunities weren’t there. equal for everyone. I began to understand that hard work and good grades were not enough.

I initially thought it was because I was a female business student that I was selected, but it was more than that.

I was a working-class girl from the Shire and didn’t have the private school education, family connections, or financial support to help me get ahead like many of my peers.

As the daughter of post-war migrants who grew up in Western Sydney and later in Southern Sydney, I understand the impact of class on our experience of inclusion at work and across the country.

How we compare to others based on wealth, income, education and occupation determines our status, power or position – our social class – which ultimately shapes who we are and how we see life. world.

It also creates a point of difference in how we identify with and are identified by others.

In Australia we can talk about cost of living pressure, stagnant wage growth and unaffordable housing, which are issues that have a disproportionate negative impact on people in the lower classes, but we are not talking explicitly about class.

We could argue about fairness, but we’re less comfortable acknowledging that our class means we don’t all start from the same place, and that means we don’t all have the same opportunities throughout our lives. .

Before the pandemic, Diversity Council Australia desired social class and found that it significantly influences inclusion and exclusion at work.

We found that lower-class workers were less likely than their middle- and upper-class colleagues to agree that they were treated as valued and respected members of their team, that they felt accepted and included at work, or that they had equal access to opportunity.

More than four in 10 lower-class workers said they had experienced discrimination or harassment or both at work between 2019 and 2020 and this was also gender-related, with 45% of lower-class women saying they had experienced discrimination and/or harassment against 39% class men.

There were also thoughts about management, with lower-class workers less likely to say their manager treated everyone fairly and behaved inclusively or sought out diverse perspectives.

On the other hand, our research found that teams that include all staff – whether lower, middle or upper class – are more efficient and innovative and more likely to deliver excellent customer service.

In short, social class has a significant impact on our work experience.

But it can also be an obstacle to access to employment. Not to mention paid parental leave and childcare, some of the biggest barriers to women’s economic equality.

That’s why the Prime Minister’s sharing of his experience is so important, because it allows us to have a conversation about the classroom and think about how we create policies and systems that can break down some of the barriers to opportunities and success that keep people from a lower class.

Some have and will likely continue to scoff at his thinking about social class, probably because they’ve never had to navigate a life shaped by disadvantage and underestimate how profoundly it can shape one’s worldview. from someone.

Social class is as important as other diverse lived experiences, and by continuing to increase the diversity of parliamentarians, the culture within parliament will change and enable Australia as a nation to respond to challenges with efficiency, truly equal innovation and productivity.

You cannot rewrite your education, but you can draw on lived experience to understand and empathize with the issues affecting our communities and better design solutions to address them.

This article was first published by Women’s program.


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