Kristy Heilenday Illustrations

Shifting fortunes mean that many in capitalist societies move up and down the social-class spectrum across their lifetimes. Yet as associate professor Sean Martin of UVA’s Darden School of Business argues in a new paper co-authored by Stéphane Côté of the University of Toronto, management research has “largely treated social class as static” in evaluating the role that it plays in the workplace. In the paper, published in Academy of Management Review, Martin and Côté call instead for a “dynamic perspective,” arguing that “social class is a permeable and intersectional form of diversity,” and that management theory needs to consider “how people who transition between social classes during their lives relate to others, experience the workplace, or affect their groups, teams or organizations.” The co-authors suggest that transitioners may bring unique value and skills to an organization, acquiring a “cultural toolkit” of insights and resources that they can use to relate to a broad range of people. The authors note, however, that while class transitioners’ ability to bridge different groups may benefit the individual and the organization, it can come at a cost, requiring exhausting vigilance to keep “switching between different cultural elements,” and may prove particularly challenging for women and minorities who must also navigate expectations based on race, gender and ethnicity.