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At a recent diversity event at my workplace, staff were encouraged to ask questions of our two presenters. I leaned forward in my chair as my question was read: "Do you feel classism is a diversity issue, particularly as it pertains to staff being discouraged from socializing with administration?"

There was a collective gasp from the audience. Several staff responded to my question, stating that they felt this issue existed in their units and was related to sexism in the organization. Both presenters stated they viewed any pressure for staff to not mingle based on hierarchy was unacceptable.

I left the meeting feeling that I had been able to bring forward a hidden structural issue. And then, the next day, my supervisor chastised me, warning that I had "put myself in the cross-hairs of the administration." I did an informal poll at work, asking line staff if they had been discouraged from associating with administration. Most staff I spoke with stated they had been told informally that this behavior was not acceptable. I investigated further, asking Human Resources if there was any formal policy prohibiting contact; I was told there was not. However, the issue remained, particularly when it concerned staff of both different status levels and different genders.

When I met socially with friends who were in administration, I found them looking over their shoulders to see if anyone they knew was around, and jumping at any unexpected sound. Grown men and women were acting like naughty children afraid of being spanked if their parents found them misbehaving.

I hadn't seen this kind of attitude since high school. Yet here I was, 41 years old, being pressured to "stay in my place" and keep my mouth shut. It reminded me of the families I have worked with who sometimes tell their children to keep quiet about what is really going on in their lives while the social worker is there, or "you are going to get it when she's gone."

I got it, all right. I understood that the structure in my organization still supported classism while speaking loudly about inclusion. I understood that interactions between men and women of different status levels were not accepted, and that those who violated these rules were ostracized and threatened.

I've decided that I will not become part of this unwritten policy. My mother would say, "If they all jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it too?" No, Mom, I won't do it too. Someone has to stand up to the bullies, and I guess this time it has to be me.

Jody Johnson is a social worker, poet and mother of four feisty children. Her most honest and trusted advisors are her dogs, Bear and Zena the Warrior Puppy.

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