As explored in my previous blogs, class inequality is alive and kicking in today’s workplaces with class-based bias informing employers’ recruitment and reward practices. However, currently, there is no legal protection for the unfavourable treatment of an individual due to their class, locality or regional background.
So what can be done to tackle class discrimination?
In their 2019 report, Building working-class power, the TUC proposes:
- Class to be added as a protected characteristic to the Equality Act 2010 making discrimination on the basis of class unlawful
- Public bodies to have a legal duty to “address socio-economic disadvantage” in their policy decision-making to tackle systemic inequality faced by lower classes
- Compulsory “class pay gap” reporting for all employers to reveal the value and reward placed on people of different classes.
However, changes to the law are just one line of defense in the battle against discrimination. What is needed is a change in culture – for employers to recognise class-based bias, understand the advantages of diversity and embrace new ways of working.
Here are our top tips for recognising, tackling and preventing class discrimination in your workplace:
Changing the landscape
There is no quick fix or magic wand for tackling class discrimination in the workplace; rather the aim is for long-term and ongoing change.
To change the cultural landscape of your organisation you first need to understand the lie of the land. Build a picture of the people in your company – are there patterns or similarities in the class of those fulfilling certain roles in the business? Do you know how or why this is the case? What strategies can be put in place to evolve this?
Review recruitment practices
Recruiting via internal referrals is a fast track to a homogenous workplace; a breeding ground for “in-group” bias.
Similarly, avoid recycling job adverts, descriptions and person specifications when replacing roles; doing so will inevitably mean replacing like for like when attracting and screening candidates.
Finally, consider blind CV and application form screening, where information relating to the place of birth/residence, schools and universities attended and personal information relating to family or elite social activities is removed, which will also help avoid conformity and affinity bias.
While time and cost-saving, telephone interviews run the risk of something I like to call (as a proud Liverpudlian) the “accent assumption”. That is, assumptions made about an individual’s class based on their accent and the way in which they speak, with those of the north still plagued by assumptions of lower class and therefore lower intelligence/value than their southern counterparts.
Of course, face-to-face interviews inevitably also risk bias based on accent. However, a structured and evidence-based approach is crucial here. Prepared questions asked in the same order for each candidate coupled with a robust scoring system ensures hiring on merit and accountability of the interviewer(s). Unstructured or conversational interviews, on the other hand, are influenced entirely by the halo/horns effect and affinity bias, and as such provide no evidence for how the candidate will successfully fulfil the role.
As well as providing equal opportunities for pay-rises, bonuses and career progression, are your company’s rewards for employees inclusive?
The annual ski trip, day at the races, golf tournament or seven-course dinner and dance at a five-star hotel may be more intimidating and alienating than rewarding for some – particularly when there is an expectation for an assumed understanding of dress code, etiquette, and skill.
As highlighted in my previous blog, the first step in addressing class-based bias in the workplace is to accept that it exists and why. From here, it can be examined, challenged and changed, and training workshops provide the perfect environment to facilitate this.
Diversity, inclusion and belonging training not only raises awareness of how unconscious biases are formed and inform our decision-making but encourages employees and leaders to face into challenging and uncomfortable issues. Training provides a platform for internal reflection as well as open discussion and experience sharing, and in turn, encourages team cohesion while ensuring every individual understands their contribution to improving their company’s culture.
If you’ve enjoyed this class discrimination series, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re looking to prevent or address class inequality in your workplace, contact me to see how Tell Jane can support you and your people. Email Lisa@telljane.co.uk or visit www.telljane.co.uk for more information.
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