Business Daily Media

the real life challenges of social mobility

  • Written by Samantha Evans, Lecturer in Human Resource Management, University of Kent
the real life challenges of social mobility

The benefits of social mobility seem to be widely agreed on. The idea that a person’s opportunities and earnings should not be defined by their background is supported across the political spectrum.

Despite this, attempts to make society more mobile and to equalise opportunities have proved to be frustrating[1] and complex. And nor is it easy for the people who do achieve this goal.

Our research[2] suggests that people who move away from their roots can find the experience challenging. This is especially true if colleagues and employers are not supportive.

Employees across a range of occupations spoke to us about their experiences of social class during childhood, at work, and at home. Those who had “benefited” from social mobility said they often found it difficult to adjust.

Some felt under pressure to change mannerisms, adjust their accents and conceal behavioural habits to fit into a workplace where class differences were prominent. As one person in our study told us: “The [work] culture is very middle class, where it might be that you can quote Latin, that you drink wine rather than beer, that you socialise in a certain way.”

Others who had been socially mobile described instances at work where they had been ridiculed for background, had their professionalism questioned, and regularly suffered discriminatory microaggressions. One participant recalled: “[A colleague] made a formal complaint about me, saying I was unprofessional, and he actually used the words, ‘How can she meet anyone speaking like that?’”

Another explained:

I get mocked. it’s not a regular thing, but I don’t hide the fact I’m [working] class. There’s kind of a joke that I have progressed quite a lot from [where] my class suggests I should be.

As a result, some said they tried to conceal their background by avoiding social situations, staying quiet in meetings, and even leaving their roles. One explained: “I didn’t feel as if I fitted in at all. I felt completely uncomfortable there, as they were a different type of people totally.”

She added: “I felt very lonely and just couldn’t face working there any longer, so I resigned”

We also found that the socially mobile encountered similar problems in their social and personal lives. Some felt the need to hide their social mobility when at home by adjusting their accent and vocabulary or avoiding discussions of work.

One explained: “If I’m home, then I’m speaking differently, and I do it because I’ve got a lot of friends who probably didn’t get the [same opportunities] and I want to melt back in with them.”

One participant told how he had even detached from family relationships because of his social mobility. “I don’t think I fit in with my dad’s family anymore,” he said.

“They just don’t understand my job so I can’t communicate with them because they don’t understand what it feels like […] so I just don’t go and see them that often.”

Many socially mobile employees felt they had to act all the time, constantly shifting their behaviours to fit in at home and work. One admitted:

You feel insecure and a little bit at sea. I just thought, ‘I’m inadequate’. It’s tarring because you’re aware of it and looking out for it and you’re never utterly secure in any situation, including the one you left.

In comparison, we found that people who had remained within the social class of their childhood found the process of moving between work and home reasonably effortless. They felt more secure and authentic in both environments. One commented: “I don’t conceal my background or social class as I think I can just speak how I am.” Another agreed: “I’ve never felt uncomfortable about my background.”

Glass of red wine next to glass of beer.
Different tastes. Shutterstock/Slawomir Fajer[3]

While our research suggests numerous difficulties for socially mobile employees, we also found that their range of life experiences provided them with important skills. One participant remarked:

I think I’m quite a social chameleon in the fact that I’ve got a very working-class background, but I went to a grammar school and university. I do find that useful, that I’ve had those different bits in my life which means I know how to talk to people.

Employers who recognised the interpersonal skills that socially mobile employees bring to the workplace, and encouraged them to be themselves were perceived as more supportive. Some even provided opportunities for staff to build connections with people from similar backgrounds.

So although levelling up can be quite a stressful experience, employers and colleagues who celebrate class differences can go a long way to improving the situation. As one participant, who said their employer valued competence over class told us: “I’m good at the job I do and I don’t need to conceal my class because I have other attributes, rather than being well-spoken, which can get me progression.”

References

  1. ^ frustrating (theconversation.com)
  2. ^ Our research (journals.sagepub.com)
  3. ^ Shutterstock/Slawomir Fajer (www.shutterstock.com)

Read more https://theconversation.com/i-didnt-feel-as-if-i-fitted-in-at-all-the-real-life-challenges-of-social-mobility-180713

Business Today

3 in 4 fundraisers have experienced sexual harassment on the job – often because of inappropriate behavior from donors

Sexual harassment is a common workplace hazard for nonprofit fundraisers.fizkes/iStock/Getty Images PlusWhile the #MeToo movement that raised public awareness of sexual harassment is making fewer headlines than it did in 2017 and ...

Cathay Pacific 2021 Sustainability Report

New commitments in carbon neutrality and diversity, and supporting the Hong Kong community during the pandemicThe Cathay Pacific Group has released its annual Sustainable Development Report that addresses its commitment and prog...

Cozycozy, is tackling consumer manipulation in the travel industry

With its user-centric algorithm, Cozycozy fights against the Online Travel Agencies' rampant manipulation of consumers’ choices. In 2019, 112.3 million domestic trips and 11.3 Million international trips were taken by Austral...

Foreign companies exiting Russia echo the pressure campaign against South Africa's racist apartheid system

McDonald's is leaving Russia after three decades of operating there.Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesMcDonald’s provided many Russians with their first taste of capitalism three decades ago. Now, the global fast-f...

Jennifer Westacott's interview with Ross Greenwood

Ross Greenwood, host, Business Now: Joining us is the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott. Jennifer, many thanks for your time as always. Quite clearly the government is setting out its age...

Business success as Aussie kids skateboard brand, Ookkie, launches in UK and Europe

Australia’s leading kids skateboard company, Ookkie, has set the wheels in motion for global business success, expanding into two new overseas markets thanks to growing demand for its products from ‘skateboard loving paren...



NewsServices.com

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion