Think differently

Laura Lacombe : « We believe that social diversity in the workplace will be one of the major issues of the next few years »

Laura Lacombe , Chaire Diversité et Inclusion

Laura Lacombe is Research manager at the EDHEC Diversity & Inclusion Chair, created in 2016. In this interview, she explains the challenges of social diversity in business and how the Chair intends to advance academic knowledge on this issue.

Reading time :
14 Feb 2024

How do you define social diversity in the workplace?

Let me start with a brief reminder. When we talk about diversity, we mean the variety of visible characteristics (gender, age, skin colour, etc.) and invisible characteristics (religious beliefs, sexual orientation, non visible disabilities, social class, etc.) within a group. This group could be a football team, a class, a work team in a company, or even the employees of a company as a whole. Inclusion aims to remove the barriers that limit the participation of everyone in an organisation, so as to promote a sense of belonging and recognition for each individual. Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace means valuing both visible and invisible differences.


For us, social diversity means having people from different social backgrounds in the same group.

However, in current research, the term "social diversity" is still little used. Depending on the research currents and disciplines, there are several definitions and specific terms related to this notion, such as "social class". According to various researchers in social psychology, this expression is rather difficult to grasp because it covers both an objective and a subjective side (1). For Stéphane Coté, social class is a dimension of the self that is rooted both in objective material resources (salary, diploma, job) and in subjective perceptions of one's rank in relation to others.


Why is social diversity a key issue for the future of a business school like EDHEC?

EDHEC cultivates values of openness to diversity, particularly social diversity. Numerous actions are carried out and financed in this respect, in particular via the EDHECFORALL foundation and scholarships. However, social diversity is progressing very slowly in the Grandes Ecoles (2) and EDHEC wants to do its part, including by raising awareness among its own students and sending out strong signals to people who could potentially apply for our programmes.


In fact, we have chosen social diversity as the theme for the 5th Diversity and Inclusion Springboard in March 2024 (3), which will bring together students, companies and specialists in diversity and inclusion. Based on concrete cases from partner companies, we will be raising the awareness of over 650 pre-master's students to the subject of social diversity through reflection, exchange and empathy. In our view, it is essential that people from modest or disadvantaged social backgrounds feel comfortable at school and then have the same professional opportunities.


So, in addition to the presence of social diversity on our campus, we advocate that everyone should feel included, including people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are unfortunately still in the minority in the Grandes Ecoles. To this end, we are taking concrete action to train future managers in the challenges of diversity and inclusion, whatever the type of diversity. EDHEC is committed to welcoming more students from diverse backgrounds, in particular through programmes such as Talents Prépa (4), and to better including them within the school. We believe that this favourable climate can help them to have a great student experience and achieve better results.


From an academic point of view, we also feel it is important for a business school like EDHEC to position itself on innovative research topics that are not yet widely covered in scientific literature. Particularly if these subjects echo our values and address major societal issues. Social diversity in business is one of them.


What expectations do companies have of social diversity? How can they turn it into an asset?

Social diversity is a difficult subject for companies to grasp. However, they do take an interest once the issues are explained to them, as shown by the participation of 6 companies in the Tremplin 2024. Their initial feedback on the subject has been encouraging!


Diversity says something about a company. It sends out the message that it is open, which puts it in a good position to attract other talents who are looking for and share the same values of openness. For employees and customers alike, we believe that it is necessary for companies to resemble diversity.


We often read and hear that "diversity" rhymes with "innovation". In reality, the link has not been scientifically proven. Over and above the question of whether or not a diverse company is more successful than one that is not (the data is mixed on this subject), we believe that giving all talents a chance and combating the biases that lead to recruiting one profile and eliminating another is first and foremost a question of justice and fairness.
Without limiting ourselves to the issue of employee diversity, the most important question is: how can we get them to work and co-create together? The climate and culture of the company play a big part in this alchemy.


EDHEC created a Diversity & Inclusion Chair in 2016. What are its objectives and missions, and why is the subject of social diversity being addressed in your chair?

The Chair aims to develop and implement new methods of data collection, to pass on knowledge and best practices that have been tried and tested in the field, and to create tools to promote a culture that is inclusive, equitable and respectful of diversity, both individually and collectively.


Social diversity in the workplace is a relatively unexplored subject compared to other diversity themes - ethno-racial diversity or disability, for example. Although interest in the subject has grown over the last ten years, mainly in the US scientific literature (5), social diversity in companies has long been a blind spot in research. This remains the case in France, where, to our knowledge, no study has yet been conducted on this specific subject in our field of research.


The Diversity & Inclusion Chair has decided to take up this issue as a major research topic. The aim is to propose solutions to take better account of this more or less invisible diversity, which can be a source of discrimination, microaggressions and conflicts in the workplace. We believe that it is important to make this issue visible in companies, so that they take it on board and promote the integration of everyone.

In the medium term, we want to draw up a state-of-the-art report on the situation of social diversity in French companies. We then aim to publish a scientific article on the specific features of social diversity in French companies.


How do you see the future in this area?

The Chair is determined to fully open up this new area of work on social diversity, and we have already identified a number of interesting avenues that will form the basis of this new field of research in France.


Fabian Müller's very recent psychology thesis (6) explores social diversity in higher education in France and Germany. In particular, he shows that students from working-class backgrounds who enter higher education often have difficulty getting used to and coping with the norms of privileged backgrounds that prevail in universities. This mismatch can lead to stress, negative emotions and a reduced sense of belonging, and may be linked to a lower rate of academic success among these students.


We have also identified a recent article by Jennifer Kish-Gephart et al (5) which summarises existing research on social class and work in various disciplines. While this study helps us to understand what has already been done on the subject in the United States, it remains interesting to explore it on this side of the Atlantic because of the differences between French and American cultures, including in the corporate world.


Finally, several studies show that people from different classes do not necessarily have the same psychosocial skills. Some studies suggest that people from working-class backgrounds are better at recognising people's emotions and taking other people's points of view into account (7), or adopt more pro-social behaviour (8).


These are all avenues that we are looking forward to investigating and putting into practice with our partner companies.



(1) Côté, S. (2011). How social class shapes thoughts and actions in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 31, 43‑71.

Kraus, M. W., Horberg, E. J., Goetz, J. L., & Keltner, D. (2011). Social Class Rank, Threat Vigilance, and Hostile Reactivity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(10), 1376‑1388.

Piff, P. K., Kraus, M. W., Côté, S., Cheng, B. H., & Keltner, D. (2010). Having less, giving more : The influence of social class on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 771‑784.

(2) Institut des politiques publiques, "Quelle démocratisation des grandes écoles depuis le milieu des années 2000 ?" (2021) - Cécile Bonneau, Pauline Charousset, Julien Grenet et Georgia Thebault.

(3) 12 mars 2024, campus EDHEC de Lille. 650 élèves, 6 entreprises et associations partenaires, 30 animateurs :

(4) Talent prépas est un programme d'accompagnement individualisé à destination des étudiants boursiers en classe préparatoire :

(5) Kish-Gephart, J. J., Moergen, K. J. N., Tilton, J. D., & Gray, B. (2023). Social Class and Work : A Review and Organizing Framework. Journal of Management, 49(1), 509‑565.

(6) Fabian Müller. Closing the achievement gap : learning from working-class students' acculturation and success in higher education. Psychology. Université Paris Cité, 2023. English. ⟨NNT : 2023UNIP7003⟩. ⟨tel-04163355⟩

(7) Dietze, P., & Knowles, E. D. (2021). Social Class Predicts Emotion Perception and Perspective-Taking Performance in Adults. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(1), 42‑56.

(8) Piff, P. K., Stancato, D. M., Côté, S., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Keltner, D. (2012). Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(11), 4086‑4091.

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