Socio-economic diversity often doesn’t get talked about in workplaces as part of DEI initiatives.
But it should.
There are ranges of wealth and income in every organization. Our access to resources affects our lives in so many ways, including culturally. The class we belong to informs our accent, our vocabulary, our taste, our preferences, and our behaviors.
And just as we work to notice and interrupt our assumptions about race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability, we have to address our class bias.
You may be at the same firm, but there was not an even playing field to get there. Around the table may be a first-generation college grad, someone who has been homeless, and someone whose family was able to pay for their education in full.
Many microaggressions related to socio-economics go unnoticed by bystanders. But if you have abundant resources, imagine that you were living paycheck to paycheck, and consider how these moments would land for you:
A colleague says “Oh I’m so broke now,” after purchasing a fancy car.
Someone shares a story about a recent vacation overseas and asks everyone to share their favorite destinations.
Employees are expected to pay for their travel, lodging, and meals on a business trip out of their own pocket and then submit receipts for reimbursement.
Be sensitive to the ways anecdotes and rituals implicitly involve money. Ask yourself if a comment or an ice-breaker about favorite memories or activities would set up comparisons between people’s access to luxury. Even someone who is single and making a big salary may not be able to afford to eat at an expensive restaurant if they are supporting someone else or paying off debt.
Societal inequality has worsened in recent decades. I want to read Matthew Desmond’s book Poverty, By America to learn more about the ways people who have the least are often penalized with senseless fees, regressive tax systems, poorly funded schools, bureaucracies, and disrespect. So many systemic issues need to be tackled to restore class mobility.
Of course, your company alone can’t solve this. But you can make sure you aren’t replicating those injustices in your compensation and benefits practices. Look into your expense payment policy. Plenty of people don’t have extra cash on hand to effectively loan to the company and then wait patiently for it to be paid back, interest-free. Pay for expenses centrally if you can, with a booking system or designated corporate card users. If that’s not possible, make sure you reimburse employees promptly. These are simple yet important equitable solutions.
And start with looking at your own biases. Remember: the experiences of people who have had to struggle against the odds stacked against them are not a mark of shame. The obstacles each of us face shape our perspectives, and cultivate resilience and dedication that we bring to work every day.