‘Blue collar bias’: Are you ignoring this worrying workplace issue?

Some organisations may be at risk of losing or alienating talented employees

‘Blue collar bias’: Are you ignoring this worrying workplace issue?

Professionals who grew up in blue-collar households have been found to experience more discrimination in the workplace than their elite-class counterparts.

Not only can these assumptions negatively impact how the employees are treated on a daily basis, but it can also influence their performance evaluations, raises, and promotions.

In fact, a massive 97% of individuals from working-class backgrounds reported that their social class background affected their work experience, according to research reported in the Harvard Business Review.

Additionally, a study by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA), has found strong evidence that people from self-identified lower classes experience more exclusion, discrimination and harassment at work than people from higher classes.

The research showed that for Australian workers it’s class more than any other diversity demographic investigated in DCA-Suncorp’s Inclusion@Work Index, that is the most strongly linked to workers’ experience of inclusion at work and one of the most strongly linked to exclusion.

DCA CEO, Lisa Annese, said that this research - based on a survey of more than 3,000 workers - shows that class counts a lot and that the time has come to put it more on the agenda.

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As someone who has been an advocate for workplace equality for over two decades, Annese knows that class is something hasn’t been considered as much as it should.

“This research shows that we can no longer ignore class and need to start addressing it to build truly inclusive workplaces”, said Annese.

“Our research looked at nine diversity demographics including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, age, caring status, class, cultural background, disability status, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and gender identity.

“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.”

Class was also one of the diversity demographics most strongly linked to exclusion (discrimination, being ignored and not getting the same opportunities as others), the others being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and religion.

Another interesting study by Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik involved sending fictitious resumes to 316 offices of the top 147 law firms in 14 cities, from fake law students looking for a prestigious summer associate role.

The resumes were indistinguishable in terms of education and work experience. However, "elite-class candidate" resumes listed traditionally upper-class hobbies and sports, such as sailing, polo, and classical music, while "lower-class candidate" resumes listed track and field, country music and pick-up soccer (a game of soccer where anyone can turn up and play).

The results found employers overwhelmingly favoured the higher-class man: over 16% of his resumes resulted in a callback versus only about 1% of the lower-class man’s resumes.

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Interestingly, research has also found a significant difference in men’s and women’s experience of class.

The DCA study found lower class women were more excluded but more supportive of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their organisation. In contrast, lower class men were less included, less supportive of D&I and in less D&I active organisations.”

The research also showed that there was a strong business case for ‘class inclusion’ in Australian workplaces.

“DCA has a wealth of research that shows that inclusive teams perform better,” said Annese.

“This research shows for the first time in Australia that diverse teams that are inclusive of all staff – whether lower, middle, or higher class – are more effective and innovative, and more likely to provide excellent customer service.”

Some of the results around how class workers are less likely to experience inclusion include:

  • Fair Treatment. Only half of lower class workers indicated that they trusted their organisation to treat them fairly (53% strongly agree/agree), and this percentage was significantly lower than middle class workers (73% strongly agree/agree) and higher class workers (82% strongly agree/agree).
  • Opportunities. Lower class workers were less likely to report they felt they had the same opportunities as anyone else with their abilities and experience (55% strongly agree/agree) compared with middle class (73% agree/strongly agree) and higher class (82% agree/strongly agree).
  • Diverse Perspectives. Lower class workers were significantly less likely than middle class and higher-class workers to report that their manager actively sought out diverse perspectives from all employees (46% versus middle class 64% and higher class 73%).

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