Taking action on class diversity

The following blog post was written by Maisie Palmer, Consultant at The Social Change Agency

At The Social Change Agency we like to respond to the most pressing and meaningful content that we see coming out of our sector. In this post we’ll be putting class diversity in the spotlight and sharing five practical ways in which you can make your organisation a welcoming place for working class people.

Why class diversity matters

If you have worked in the social impact space, you know how fundamental diversity of voice and experience is in the work that we do. Our sector, however, is currently failing to encourage and incorporate working class perspectives in both their work and their workforce. People are not talking about class even though professionals from working class backgrounds earn £6,800 less each year on average than their more privileged counterparts. Beyond that, there is still no protection for employees on the grounds of social class included in the Equality Act (2010).

However, in recent months, we have seen a number of organisations draw attention to class in their research. Notably, the pioneering youth leadership charity RECLAIM published the #MissingExperts Report and shared  findings of their collaborative research on class diversity in charities and think tanks with The Joseph Rowntree Foundation. We have also seen The Social Mobility Foundation, The Sutton Trust, release a report Speaking Up about the relationship between accents and social mobility. 

What does it mean to be working class?

First things first, what does the term ‘working class’ mean to people today? If you give it a quick Google, the first definition you will come across is “the social group consisting primarily of people who are employed in unskilled or semi-skilled manual or industrial work.” RECLAIM knows that this definition is no longer fit for purpose, and we agree. Instead, they offer an alternative where being working class relates  to the following: 

  • You’re on, or grew up on, a low income with limited access to wealth.
  • You don’t have many family connections to people with well paid, professional or powerful jobs.
  • You find it harder to ‘fit in’ in middle-class spaces, interests and conversations.
  • You’re proud of your background and want people to see it as a strength, not a weakness

Using this definition as our starting point, here are 5 things you can do right now to support class diversity in your organisation.

5 ways to increase class diversity in your organisation

1. Data is key: Embedding class diversity into your EDI strategy

We live in a world where data rules supreme, and that is no different when it comes to having the right information to begin addressing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) matters. It is commonplace for organisations to hold themselves accountable to EDI commitments through integrating equality and diversity monitoring into their onboarding processes. You can see an example of the type of questions some organisations might use in an EDI form here

It is important to note that questions measuring class or socio-economic background can often be missed in this type of monitoring procedure. So here are some examples of questions that you could add to check yourself when it comes to class diversity: 

  • Did your parent(s)/primary carer(s) attend university? 
  • What job do/did your parents have? 
  • Were you eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) at school?
  • What type of school did you attend? (Private / Comprehensive / Grammar etc.)
  • Were you eligible for any scholarships related to your household income at school?

If you have an understanding of the class make-up of your employees, you can begin to get a picture of how inclusive your organisation is in terms of representing working class people. This data could then be used to create more innovative recruitment processes that lift up people from all backgrounds. 

2. Develop self-awareness when talking about accents

The UK is full of diverse and wonderful accents. However, in our country, accents have always been treated as an indicator for class, or as RECLAIM likes to put it, a “poor proxy.” Common class stereotypes mean that this can also intersect with other parts of a person’s identity such as the region you grew up in. For example, where you live in the UK or your ethnicity often runs parallel with assumptions of how hard up you are e.g people of colour or those from the north of the UK are often assumed to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds than their white and middle class counterparts.

This recent article in The Guardian talks about the biases that accompany regional accents and how not too much has changed on this front since 1969. Therefore, our message to organisations is to ensure that your staff are equipped to talk sensitively when it comes accents and recognise that those discussions can be loaded  – no matter how kind your comment might be. 

3. Support staff to talk about money 

British social norms and sensibilities often mean that we do not like talking about money. This study by the Money & Pensions Service found that up to 29 million UK adults “don’t feel comfortable talking about money despite feeling worried about it.” We are of the opinion that open conversations about money and finances provide people with more agency to determine their future. On the other hand, silence maintains the status quo and wealth is not transferred in a way that supports social mobility. To enable staff to talk about money with you as their employer, you might consider:

  • Establishing clear salary bands
  • Build in conversations around salary into your annual calendar
  • Consider transparent book-keeping where staff salaries can be viewed openly 

4. Structured and meaningful progression plans

For people who can not fall back on familial wealth in the event of losing a job or switching careers, it is important to be able to see what their future could look like and to be able to attach numbers to that. Having solid progression frameworks and career support plans is essential for building a sense of security for all employees, but especially for working class ones. 

Supporting working class people to see progression pathways can calm anxieties around the future. In the same vein, it is also important that working class role models are visible and heard in your organisation. In short, be as clear as possible about what progression and salary could look like in years to come and support your staff to put that plan in motion.

5. Create supportive spaces where people can talk about their background and interests

As a person from a working class background, I have found it important to have spaces to share my background and experiences with my colleagues. At The SCA, we support staff to bring their interests to the team in the form of deep dives and lunch and learns. This enables employees to bring parts of their identity to the fore and discuss things that they care about that might fall outside of their day-to-day. I would encourage organisations to build spaces like this into their weekly calendar to ensure employees can bring their whole selves to work

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