A recent study conducted by D&I experts about the workplace experience of those from different socioeconomic backgrounds has found that wealth differences influence the paths through which people enter and progress through their professional careers, and suggests what leaders should do to break the patterns.
The so-called “First Generation Professionals” (FGPs) are white-collar employees from working-class backgrounds. They are usually the first in their family to get a higher education and be employed in a professional workplace.
The research investigated their experiences from first hire, through promotion, management, and leadership with 290 professionals from California’s utility and finance industries.
When asked how they obtained their first professional job, 23.7% of FGPs acquired their jobs through a work-study program at college, compared to just 7.6% of non-FGPs. In contrast, non-FGPs indicated that they were more likely to lean on family and friends for support and advice. FGPs were also significantly more likely to report that professional development and leadership training was helpful for their careers, contributed to promotions, and improved their skillsets.
Professional workplace communication styles can be a barrier itself: 43% of FGPs reported wishing they had learned people or communication skills for the professional world, compared to 9% of non-FGPs. Training in communication and social skills such as networking, conflict management, and navigating office politics could help even the playing field.
Besides, FGPs were more likely to report experiencing discrimination and unfair treatment at work than non-FGPs. When asked directly about the workplace environment, the results show that FGPs ranked nearly every statement lower than non-FGPs.
Structured company programs provide important stepping stones for first-generation professionals. FGPs obtained their first job in a professional workplace through a work-study program 3x more often than non-FGPs. In contrast, non-FGPs were more likely to get their first job through a cold application, or through knowing someone at the company.
In this article, the authors summarize their findings in three big lessons for all leaders:
- Be transparent about available programs and resources
- Make inclusive communication a core competency for everyone
- Assess the current workplace culture and norms