“I’ve never thought money was an issue.
That’s cuz u have it”
The most popular sitcoms of late 1990’s and early 2000’s Friends, aired a restaurant scene where 6 of the closest friends realize how having different access to money could be an issue. These are friends who are close to each other, and discuss life problems as and when they face it. But here you can see the discomfort of 3 friends who at that moment do not have sufficient money to eat at a fancy restaurant regularly. They end up ordering side dishes and soups, as those are dishes they can afford. The other 3 are oblivious to the fact that there could be a bigger reason why their 3 friends are barely eating. At the time of paying the bill it is equally divided, that is when the conversation about money being an issue, starts.
Now imagine a similar scenario at a workplace. When the colleagues plan to have food outside, or order in, or plan to pool-in a gift for another colleague, just head out for drinks and so on. Would we consider different access to financial resources, and a different set of responsibilities?
It is often colleagues who go out more often who may step up to suggest where to go out or which cuisine to order in. When they do not factor in the aspect of class and different access to resources, it may seem strange to them why someone always refuses to go out after work for drink. Could it be the anxiety of having to order something someone has probably never even heard of, or they are not sure the proper way to eat that food, and may not want to look like the ‘odd one out’, when they are with their co-workers.
Talking about money is not always easy, which is one of the reasons why class could be an awkward conversation. But class bias can be as insidious as any other unconscious bias. It can add up with intersections of other kinds of biases. Research suggests that cultural similarity to the organization and to them, often becomes a criterion for selecting candidates. A sort of ‘culture fit’ plays out while hiring, where people are inclined to choose someone they would be comfortable to work with. This is certainly an offshoot of Affinity bias or similar-to-me effect. While it might seem harmless in principle to associate ourselves with familiar people, the similar-to-me effect can lead to unjust consequences when applied to hiring practices, workplace promotions, and tolerance towards otherness.
‘Why are you always rushing back home after work, Rohan? You don’t have rent concerns, I mean you live with your parents.’
‘Susan always says no to going out on Friday evenings. But then you can’t blame her, she is married!’
‘What do you mean you don’t drink, Sahil? Poor thing, your partner must be drinking alone.’
‘We didn’t invite you because we thought you may want to be home with your kids, Farah?’
‘How healthy that you always carry a lunch pack from home.’
‘Your food smells exotic/strange!’
Class as a factor could also intersect with other factors. Unconscious biases seep in overtime, slowly, and without us realizing. In the light of the scenarios above, we see an intersection of other aspects. None of these statements seem overtly aggressive or rude, in fact some seem benevolent, but they pre-decide someone’s choices.
Assuming a man would not want to spend time at home, but would always say yes to an outing. A colleague with caregiving responsibilities, and little or no help may not want to stay back very frequently. But that does not mean it does not mean that someone makes an assumption they may not want to join in ever, and stops inviting them. They might sometimes make arrangements, or get help, and may want to socialize with their colleagues. Similarly, food creates emotional and childhood memories for every individual, calling it strange and exotic, not only invalidates their experience, it also rejects diversity in food.
Diversity can remain a wonderful sounding buzzwork, until we are ready to put in work towards inclusion. So what are some of the things that can be done?
- Potluck – So everyone’s food gets representation, everyone gets to respect food of others
- Human Library – Different co-workers journey as stories, so one can realize how much work and effort everyone has put in. So, diversity beyond just numbers, and as actual human experience.
- Planning for social events in advance, taking preferences for date, time and food choices.
- Choose a place with multiple options while going out – for both food, drinking and budget range options.
- When pooling in for a gift or secret Santa setting a reasonable amount for all that even an intern or new joinee would be able to give. Avoid leaving the amount open or asking people to use discretion. If the amount is not set it puts a lot of pressure on colleagues preferences.