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Class at work in Australia

MEDIA RELEASE: 26 October 2020: New research, released today from Diversity Council Australia (DCA), has found strong evidence that people from self-identified lower classes experience more exclusion, discrimination and harassment at work than people from higher classes.

The research, based on a survey of more than 3,000 workers showed that for Australian workers it’s class more than any other diversity demographic investigated in DCA-Suncorp’s Inclusion@Work Index, that is the most strongly linked to workers’ experience of inclusion at work and one of the most strongly linked to exclusion.

DCA CEO, Lisa Annese, said that this research shows that class counts a lot, and we need to start talking about it.

“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”, said Lisa.

“Our research 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.

“Class was the diversity demographic most linked to workplace inclusion – there were clear differences between self-identified lower and higher class people on every question we asked.

“Class was also one of the diversity demographics most strongly linked to exclusion (discrimination, being ignored and not getting the same opportunities as others), the others being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and religion.

“What’s more, we 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.”

The research also showed that there was a strong business case for ‘class inclusion’ in Australian workplaces.

“DCA has a wealth of research that shows that inclusive teams perform better. 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,” concluded Lisa.

Key findings:
Boosting Performance through class-inclusion

Lower class workers who are in inclusive teams were:

  • 17 times more likely to be in a team that works effectively thanlower class workers in a non-inclusive team (53% in inclusive teams compared to 3% in non-inclusive teams)
  • 15 times more likely to be in a team that is innovative (47% in inclusive teams compared to 3% in non-inclusive teams)
  • 10 times more likely to be in a team providing excellent customer service (65% in inclusive teams compared to 6% in non-inclusive teams).

Lower Class Workers Are Less Likely to Experience Inclusion

  • Fair Treatment. Only half of lower class workers indicated that they trusted their organisation to treat them fairly (53% strongly agree/agree), and this percentage was significantly lower than middle class workers (73% strongly agree/agree) and higher class workers (82% strongly agree/agree).
  • Opportunities. Lower class workers were less likely to report they felt they had the same opportunities as anyone else with their abilities and experience (55% strongly agree/agree) compared with middle class (73% agree/strongly agree) and higher class (82% agree/strongly agree).
  • Diverse Perspectives. Lower class workers were significantly less likely than middle class and higher class workers to report that their manager actively sought out diverse perspectives from all employees (46% versus middle class 64% and higher class 73%).

Lower Class Workers Are More Likely to Experience Exclusion

  • Discrimination/Harassment. More than two-fifths of lower class workers (43%) reported having personally experienced discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace in the last 12 months, compared to 22% middle class workers and 26% of higher class workers.
  • Non-Inclusive Teams. 27% of lower class workers work in non-inclusive teams, compared to 10% of middle class workers, and 5% of higher class workers.
  • Being ignored. Lower class workers were more likely to report being ignored (17% strongly agree/agree) compared to middle class workers (6%) and higher class workers (7%).
  • Missing out on opportunities and privileges. Lower class workers were more likely to report missing out on opportunities and privileges (22% strongly agree/agree) compared to middle class workers (9%) and higher class workers (9%).
  • Left out of social gatherings. Lower class workers were more likely to report being left out of social gatherings (20% strongly agree/agree) compared to middle class workers (6%) and higher class workers (7%).

When Gender and Class Combine

  • Lower class women more excluded but more supportive of D&I. 45% of lower class women reported having experienced discrimination and/or harassment of some type in the past year, compared to 39% of lower class men, 24% (female) to 21% (male) of middle class workers, and 25% (female) to 27% (male) of higher class workers (note that the differences between middle class and higher class workers are not statistically significant). They were also among the most supportive of D&I, along with all other women (49% of lower, middle, and higher class females, compared to 37% of lower class males, 36% of middle class males, 45% of higher class males).
  • Lower class men less included, less supportive of D&I and in less D&I active organisations. Lower class men were among the least supportive of organisations taking action on D&I, and they were also the least likely to work in organisations taking action on D&I (43% of lower class males worked in D&I active organisation, compared to 50% of lower class females, 57% of middle class males and females, 65% of higher class males, and 62% of higher class females). In addition, 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:
    • Inclusive organisations. 24% of lower class males were in inclusive organisations, compared to 32% of lower class females, 38% of middle class males, 41% middle of class females, and 46% of higher class males and females.
    • Inclusive teams. 32% of lower class males were in inclusive teams, compared to 36% of lower class females, 49% of middle class males, 51% of middle class females, 65% of higher class males, and 63% of higher class females.
    • Inclusive leaders. 19% of lower class males had inclusive leaders, compared to 30% of lower class females, 34% of middle class males, 37% of middle class females, 40% of higher class males, and 42% of higher class females.

Download the research.

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About the research

  • DCA partnered with the University of Newcastle to investigate how class impacts on Australian workers’ experiences of inclusion and exclusion at work, drawing on two sources of evidence: international and national research, and DCA-Suncorp’s Inclusion@Work Index 2019–2020 survey dataset sourced from a nationally representative survey of 3,000 Australian workers.
  • Social class means someone’s social standing compared to other Australians based on a range of factors including their wealth, income, education, and occupation. All these factors combine to create a person’s status, power and/or position – that is, their social standing or social class.
  • Social class was measured using an adapted version of the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status, asking respondents to indicate where they feel they stand in society relative to other Australians, based on money, education, and occupation.

Website: Diversity Council Australia

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