How Social Class Prevents Great Managers From Breaking Through

In his recent HBR article, ‘The Forgotten Dimension of Diversity,’ Columbia professor Paul Ingram shares research indicating how social class is as important as race or gender in the broader diversity and inclusion (D&I) discussion. While race and gender should be front and centre, it would be a missed opportunity if organizations didn’t also include social class in their efforts. Here’s why.

As it relates to managers, American workers from lower social class backgrounds are 32% less likely to become managers than people from higher class origins. Which highlights that the class disadvantage is significant for organizations because it “excludes from management ranks a group of people that may produce better-than-average leaders.” Companies are missing out on a huge talent pool because of such practices (no shocker here; race and gender groups have also seen this).

What’s notable here is that individuals disadvantaged by this are often better suited to management roles. Studies from the US military indicate that individuals from lower social-class backgrounds are less self-centred, while a UK-based study found that lawyers who didn’t come from elite origins are more motivated and capable than their privileged counterparts. Deep down, I suspect we all knew this.

To combat this disadvantage, here is a sample of what Ingram suggests leaders can do:

1. Add social class to existing D&I efforts. A win-win and the next step in broader D&I initiatives. PwC has done this very effectively in the United Kingdom.

2. Remove unnecessary job credentials (ex. degrees). EY, IBM, and Google have all removed outdated hiring protocols that hinder rather than serve the business (and employees). The world has changed.

3. Promote the best from every department. To avoid over-selecting talent from functions that attract a certain demographic, promoting talent from all departments can minimize marginalization.

For the full article, click here, and share with your organization to stimulate further D&I discussion.