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Classism meaning: what is classism?

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Classism definition

Classism can be defined as the differential treatment based on actual or imagined social status. Historically, it has been referred to as the systematic subjugation of lower-class groups by higher-class groups, in order to benefit and reinforce them as well as the methodical allocation of abilities and qualities according to social status. Classism is maintained by a set of cultural attitudes and ideas that divide people based on a variety of factors, including education level, employment status, family history and economic standing. 

In the workplace, classism can manifest itself in a variety of ways. For example, when colleagues feel excluded from conversations because they don't understand an inside joke about their middle-class coworkers, or it can show itself more overtly, like when people make fun of working-class and regional accents. Classism is still extremely prevalent in the workplace, as according to 2022 Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace Report by Wildgoose, 33% of the respondents in the UK identified socio-economic background as the key diversity area that their company can still improve upon.  

Real-world context

  • Recruitment: Classism in the workplace may display itself in the beginning of the employee lifecycle, at the sourcing and hiring process. For instance, accepting candidates only from “target schools” or having minimum grade requirements for a role may encourage classism in the workplace, as access to quality education may be influenced by one’s financial situation. Rather, inclusive practices would involve removing grade/degree requirements where possible.  
  • Talent development: Classism in the workplace may encourage favouritism. For instance, some candidates may be overlooked for a promotion due to their background, or a manager may favour another candidate who went to a more prestigious school or university rather than basing their assessment solely on soft and hard skills.  
  • Inclusive culture: Microaggressions in the workplace may revolve around classism, which in turn create a culture that lacks a safe space. For instance, according to a Queen Mary University Study, 29% of senior managers from working class backgrounds have been mocked for their accent in the workplace. Diversity training and encouragement of speak-up culture can be implemented in order to avoid these microaggressions.  

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