Class strongly linked to experience of inclusion at work, study finds

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday October 26, 2020

Lisa Annese

Addressing barriers to class-inclusion in the workplace could help teams work more effectively and deliver better customer service, according to new research from Diversity Council Australia (DCA).

The research published on Monday found that out of all the diversity demographics explored In DCA and Suncorp’s Inclusion@Work Index, class was the most strongly linked to workers’ experience of inclusion at work and one of the most strongly linked to exclusion.

Based on a survey of more than 3000 Australian workers, the study 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.

It found that inclusive teams perform better, according to DCA CEO Lisa Annese.

“As someone who has been an advocate for workplace equality for over two decades, I know that class is something that we haven’t considered. This research shows that we can no longer ignore class, and need to start addressing it to build truly inclusive workplaces,” she said.

“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.”

Lower class workers who were in inclusive teams were 17 times more likely to be in a team that worked effectively than lower class workers in a non-inclusive team, the study found. They were also 15 times more likely to be in a team that was innovative, and 10 times more likely to be in a team that provided excellent customer service.

Along with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and religion, class was one of the diversity demographics most strongly linked to exclusion, Annese noted.

The research found that 43% of lower class workers had personally experienced discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace in the last 12 months, compared to 22% of middle class workers and 26% of higher class workers. They were also more likely to report being ignored, missing out on opportunities and privileges, and being left out of social gatherings.

Only 53% of lower class workers indicated that they trusted their organisation to treat them fairly, compared with 73% of middle class workers, and 82% of higher class workers.

Lower class workers were less likely than middle class and higher class workers to believe that they have the same opportunities as anyone else with their abilities and experience. They were also less likely (46%) than middle class employees (64%) and higher class workers (73%) to report that their manager actively sought out diverse perspectives from all staff.

Annese noted the study found a significant difference in men’s and women’s experience of class.

“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,” she said.

Women from across the lower, middle and higher classes were also more supportive of D&I than men, the study found. Meanwhile, lower class men were much less likely than other men — and all women — to report being in inclusive organisations and inclusive teams, and to have an inclusive leader.

Read more: Making the case for diversity: what is the evidence?


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