Originally found at Forbes India, by Caroline Newman
A new study argues that “social class transitioners” — people who move between different socioeconomic classes through their lifetimes — bring a unique and valuable skillset to the workplace.
“People who transition between classes can learn to relate to people in a more skilled way, and they are incredibly helpful in groups, as they can understand people from all walks of life,” said University of Virginia Darden School of Business professor Sean Martin, a co-author of the new study. “However, it can also be an exhausting and even isolating experience for that person.”
Martin and his co-author, University of Toronto professor Stéphane Côté, described the different experiences of social class transitioners and the “cultural toolkit” they acquired in a paper accepted by the Academy of Management Review.
They drew from prior research to explain how the direction of someone’s transition (upward or downward), the pace of the transition and time spent in new environments impacted behavior.
The research felt personal for Martin, who began his life in what he describes as the lower-middle class and attended schools that were later closed when they failed to meet basic performance levels. His parents worked their way up their own career ladders, the family quickly transitioned between social classes, and Martin himself eventually worked his way through college and earned a doctorate at an Ivy League school, Cornell University.
“It was a combination of hard work and structural opportunities I had that others do not,” he said. “I felt very lucky and fortunate, but I also quickly realized that I did not know all of the rules among the set of people I found myself in.”
He remembers being puzzled by the ritzy recruiting process employed by elite colleges and showing up to events in the “wrong” attire when seemingly everyone else knew exactly what to wear.
“It almost felt like I was doing a foreign exchange, studying in a new country,” he said. “Honestly, I still feel that way sometimes.”
However, as Martin argues in the paper, that sense of displacement can be an asset because it adds to what he and Côté refer to as a “cultural toolkit.”
Continue reading the original article at Forbes India.
Read the original research in Academy of Management Review
This research was also cited in AOM Insights
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