Job Titles Create Stereotypes

People at work and elsewhere have prejudices that serve to impede the flow of information between them.  Among the worst barriers are those that take root in culture, race, religion or national origin.  Much has been written elsewhere about these prejudices and their deleterious effects.  Bad as they are, such prejudices are diminishing, to the benefit of all who value equal opportunity and free expression.

We will focus here on another, less recognized barrier to communication, and that is the attitudes and stereotypes people have about the jobs others do and the job titles associated with those jobs.  We all know that people look up to some kinds of work and down on others. They tend to pay more attention and give greater consideration to those occupations held in higher regard.  These hidden attitudes serve to distort the flow of ideas and therefore need to be addressed.

Unfortunately, it is the job titles that contribute in part to communication stereotypes and biases. The job titles people hold tend to elevate the influence of some co-workers and reduce the influence of others.  In truth, what people think others do at work by virtue of their job title is usually far from what they really do.  Job titles contribute to this disconnect.

I know someone in a high position on a major engineering project who thinks little of those who work in purchasing.  In describing them, he says, “All they do is buy whatever and as much as they are told to buy.”  Instead of finding out what purchasing executives actually do and what is difficult about their work, this engineer scoffs at it to everyone’s loss.

At project meetings he barely listens to what they say.  He is wrong.  I have worked with purchasing professionals in small and large corporations.  Their job requires a high level of intelligence and business judgment.  They engage in protracted and difficult negotiations over a wide spectrum of ideas, specifications and legal complexities.  Supply management is a very important activity in most organizations.  When those in supply and procurement speak, it’s wise to hear them out.

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