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CultureWax | Diversity & Inclusion: Social Origin, Unconscious Bias and Culture Fit
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Diversity & Inclusion: Social Origin, Unconscious Bias and Culture Fit

Diversity & Inclusion: Social Origin, Unconscious Bias and Culture Fit

In the U.S., workers from less socially influential families are 32% less likely to be promoted to management positions compared to workers from more socially influential families. This disadvantage even exceeds that of women versus men at 27% or of PoC versus Whites at 25% – according to Paul Ingram, a professor at Columbia Business School. This social disadvantage in the workplace exists in every major economy in the world.

“White, male, with a middle-class upbringing – anyone who doesn’t fit this pattern will have a tough time getting ahead in a career in this country. This is also confirmed by the results of the Diversity Trends study conducted by the Germany Diversity Charter “Charta der Vielfalt”: According to this study, 59% of the executives surveyed have already observed or even experienced discrimination on the basis of social origin in the workplace”.[1]

Shockingly, this also applies to the field of education: in Germany for instance, 79% of first-year students come from families with an academic background, while only 27% come from non-academic families.

What does social origin mean?

People who come from lower social classes are those who, through birth and upbringing, have had comparatively less access to money, contacts that promote their advancement, or cultural knowledge that favors advancement in schools and businesses. From a social science perspective, social background is measured on the basis of several dimensions: Family income in the early years of life, educational background, and parents’ occupations.

“Class migrants”

It is difficult for all of us to talk about “class”. Especially in Germany, this topic is one that is frowned upon. However, social background continues to play a powerful role in the workplace. Talk to professionals who grew up in “working-class” households about their experiences – they’ll probably tell you about one or two. The term “class migrants” even exists in the English literature.

The role that “class” plays in the workplace can no longer be ignored. Class migrants have unique skills that people from economically privileged backgrounds may not have. Studies have shown that they have a greater willingness to take risks in leadership positions, which moves them higher up the career ladder. They also often bring more pragmatic approaches to issues of customer service or problem solving.

Despite all of this, class migrants frequently report that they have negative experiences in the workplace – which occur because of their background. They report a lower sense of belonging, feel disadvantaged by a lack of knowledge about the internal company “rules of the game” and are less likely to be seen as “suitable” in the sense of a “culture fit”.

“Culture fit” and Unconscious Bias

“Culture fit” is a phenomenon that creates a bond between people with similar interests. As a result, HR managers often tend to favor candidates with overlapping fields of interest, such as those with the same interests in sports. What are elite sports? Typically golf, tennis, windsurfing or squash. What are working-class sports? Typically bowling, soccer or skateboarding. The same field of interest creates a connection, automatically disadvantaging others when it comes to making decisions. This is case despite the fact that sports interests have absolutely no predictive value whatsoever in terms of the technical aptitude required for the new position.

Integrating social origin into the corporate D&I strategy

Diversity and inclusion initiatives should consider other aspects of diversity in addition to gender and ethnicity, such as social origin, age, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, disabilities, and so on. Employers who exclude the issue of social origin from their diversity and inclusion considerations run the real risk of alienating and even losing talented employees. This is true both for white male “class migrants” who may be excluded from diversity & inclusion initiatives even though they do not have the privileges that their elite counterparts have, as well as, for example, for employees of other ethnic backgrounds, as these employees are more likely to be “class migrants” than white people.