Generally, it relates to someone’s educational and financial background. But then there are the more intangible factors: whether or not they have caring responsibilities, their language preferences, and even what their hobbies are.
In the UK, two thirds of employees between the ages of 18 and 25 feel like they’ve had to change their personality during interviews to make a good impression. A survey by Diversity Council Australia found that employees who identified as ‘lower class’ were likely to be left out of social gatherings. And although working from home might be a fundamental part of the new normal we’re heading into, it’s usually people with higher salaries who are most able to do their jobs from home.
How to address it
There are tons of ways to tackle the problem and build a more socio-economically diverse workplace. Some accounting firms have stopped filtering applications by academic background. And when US-based Heath Ceramics increased its minimum hourly pay to $20, it also decided to cut 401(k) matching to prevent higher earners making even more money from pension funds.
Then, of course, there are efforts on the more extreme end of the spectrum. Spill, a workplace mental health startup, famously experimented with paying everyone in the company the same salary. Although that didn’t quite go according to plan, it now has an open salary policy in place, so everyone knows what everyone else is paid.
Here are four more ways businesses can build and retain a more socio-economically diverse workforce.
1. Demystify your industry
Part of the problem involves hiring for what’s called ‘cultural fit’. ‘This is a very conscious bias,’ says Ally Owen, founder of the Brixton Finishing School, which offers a free programme on creative sector skills for people from under-represented backgrounds in London, UK. ‘Organisations can work with third parties to find and tell potential talent about these jobs. It’s a full-time job just to convince people to try an industry that they’ve never heard of.’
2. Offer tailored benefits
Other businesses, if they have the budget, can look at what extras they can offer their employees. ‘Some have started to provide support to pay down student loans,’ says Sarah Saska, co-founder and CEO of Feminuity, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy in Toronto, Canada. ‘Some have started to provide daily stipends or grocery allowances. Some have provided budgets for at-home office expenses – subsidising internet connectivity is a critical equity-centred need.’
3. Be aware of social biases
You can attract a socio-economically diverse team by not making university degrees mandatory, but retaining them needs the whole workplace culture to change, says Roshni Goyate, founder of The Other Box, a diversity and inclusion company and bias education provider in the UK. ‘Try not to assume that people have the same cultural references as you do. It’s not always obvious what is appropriate behaviour at a client meeting or a team dinner.’
4. Take your time
This won’t be an overnight shift – and it would be inauthentic to suggest otherwise. ‘A company should say that it’s not quite where it wants to be yet, but that it can equip its employees with whatever they need to change their workplaces together,’ says Shana Gujral, founder of UK diversity training and management platform Lila. For example, offering training that’s paid for by the company also signals to employees that their workplace wants to invest in their development, she adds.