Employees from lower classes face greater workplace discrimination and higher unemployment chances.
This week two reports were released highlighting Australia’s widening class gap.
This year Diversity Council Australia (DCA) added ‘class’ as the report’s ninth indicator of inclusion to its inclusive work index. Their latest report, Class at Work, found more than 40 per cent of workers from lower classes experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace, more than double the number of employees from higher classes.
At the same time, Torrens University’s Public Health Information Development Unit (PHIDU) has revealed data showing disadvantaged areas are suffering exponential levels of unemployment and many are likely to be pushed below the poverty line when the JobSeeker supplement expires at the end of this year.
HRM has written before on the need for class to be included in diversity and inclusion initiatives and DCA’s CEO Lisa Annese says it’s time to begin taking that need seriously.
“We’re telling employers that class is a significant aspect of the experience of inclusion or exclusion in the workplace,” says Annese. “Employers need to rethink their approach to diversity and inclusion programmes, recruitment pools and strategies with a perspective considering people’s class and background.”
The DCA report found 17 per cent of lower class respondents felt ignored at work, and 22 per cent felt they missed out on opportunities or privileges. Worst of all, employees weren’t just feeling left out by employers, they also felt their colleagues were excluding them with 20 per cent of respondents saying they were left out of social gatherings.
Inclusion boosts performance
For the report, DCA defines lower class workers who ranked themselves as worse off compared to most Australians. They focused on money, education, employment and job respect.
“Our research looked at nine diversity demographics including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, age, caring status, class, cultural background, disability status, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and gender identity,” says Annese.
“But class was the diversity demographic most linked to workplace inclusion – there were clear differences between self-identified lower and higher class people on every question we asked.”
Annese says when organisations limit themselves to only hiring from elite schools or universities they miss out on the opportunity to build truly effective teams.
“We know from the inclusion index that inclusive workplaces are more productive, more innovative and better at problem solving,” says Annese.
Unfortunately, DCA’s report shows lower class workers are more than twice as likely to be in non-inclusive teams compared to their middle and upper class counterparts. However, when they are in inclusive teams those teams are 17 times more effective and 15 times more productive than non-inclusive teams.
Interestingly there was a notable difference between how lower class women and men felt about diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
Over 30 per cent of lower class women work for inclusive organisations, and almost 50 per cent said they supported D&I initiatives. On the flip side, only 24 per cent of lower class men surveyed work for inclusive organisations but less than 40 per cent supported organisational D&I initiatives.
“Our research demonstrates that no group is a monolith. Class, gender, background they all intersect with each other and can change a person’s prospects,” says Annese.
Annese comments ring true particularly when considering how class intersects with health prospects.
The Torrens University’s Public Health Information Development Unit (PHIDU)’s report, COVID-19 Impact on Unemployment Benefits, tracked how the number of people on employment benefits has changed since 2019.
Over one and a half million people (1,614,412 to be exact) were receiving an unemployment benefit as of June this year, compared to three quarters of million (769,555) at the same time last year.
Statistically, there was a large jump in unemployment figures in affluent areas however, PHIDU professor John Glover says this is more likely due to the low number of people on benefits prior to the crisis.
“Unusually, we are seeing this change across the socioeconomic spectrum. Although the largest increase in numbers are in the most disadvantaged areas, the largest percentage increases are in the most well-off areas, as they are increasing off of a very low base,” says Glover in a statement accompanying the data.
While the rise in unemployment is concerning the researchers note there is an equal concern for the health of those on these benefits, particularly as the Coronavirus JobSeeker Supplement payment expires at the end of the year.
“It is widely acknowledged that the pandemic has impacted the mental health and wellbeing of many people,” says Glover.
“As the various supplements are reduced and potentially removed, the financial stress for many Australians will likely be exacerbated, as people may have delayed major expenses, such as rent, mortgage and utilities bills. This additional financial pressure is set to negatively impact their mental health and wellbeing even further.”
What can workplaces do?
Annese says the first step to addressing the issue of class inclusion in the workplace is to begin a conversation.
“We know leaders are more likely to have come from certain backgrounds, not all of them, but many. And they should understand how that might impact their organisation and possibly add to unconscious biases,” says Annese.
“From that, organisations can build class diversity into the way they measure things like diversity and inclusion in their workplace. If they’re running engagement surveys, maybe have a question in there about class that might start to reveal information within your organisation. Maybe lower class workers are less engaged than higher class workers, or vice versa.”
The Class at Work report includes nine recommendations for D&I practices. Some recommendations are for larger nationwide changes to how we approach D&I, but there are some suggestions organisations can incorporate now:
- Make class a standard part of D&I vocabulary and practice
- Keep intersections in mind
- Ensure that D&I initiatives reach and positively impact people from all classes
- Recruit for class diversity
- Use inclusive language
- Review informal networking and its impact on your workplace.
Diverse teams come from diverse recruitment, but to do that workplaces need to check their biases. AHRI’s short course Managing Unconscious Bias will help you overcome that hurdle.