How Does Social Class Affect the Workplace?

Socioeconomic status—income, education and occupation mixed with perceptions of rank based on these assets—is an underappreciated force in the workplace. It can also be a source of bias and discrimination.

Social class has an outsized yet insidious impact on organizational life. Studies have shown, for example, that candidates with resumés that contain cues of an upper social class background have significant advantages when applying for entry-level and management positions.

Michelle Lee, an assistant professor of strategy and organization at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, reviews what the research says about the impact of social class on organizations. She offers insights on what organizations can do to improve their recruitment practices, in particular avoiding network-based hiring. Organizations can also break down social class barriers by instituting formal mentorship programs.

Prof. Lee says the benefits of hiring candidates from lower-class backgrounds is that these candidates tend to be more focused on others and value community and teamwork. CEOs from lower social backgrounds have also been shown to be more entrepreneurial and willing to engage in social responsibility initiatives.