Here's Who Cares Most About Professionalism

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"Being a professional" is one of the highest compliments anyone can receive in the course of their working life. It can mean organizing an event with frictionless competence or handling a tough meeting on the fly. To be a consummate professional means that you really value both the work that you do and the people you do it with.


Not everyone takes this as a core competency, though. You've had bad bosses and unpleasant coworkers, sure, but researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school have just published a study calling on everyone to assess their workplace priorities. The paper found that employees who are members of a historically marginalized group, such as women and Black people, are more likely to say that professionalism is important to them, that they notice when it's not extended, and that a lack thereof makes them more likely to leave a job altogether.

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Furthermore, the researchers also found that our definitions of professionalism are murky and uneven — not to mention heavily weighted toward white, male, and heterosexual norms. These tend to describe workers who value professionalism the least. It's not just behavior that falls under this rubric; anything from hair to accent and vocabulary to wardrobe can inform perceptions of professionalism, which can further entrench a norm and stifle a truly inclusive environment.


"Recruiting female and minority students and employees is not enough if an organization cannot retain them," as the researchers put it — and with the workplace changing faster than ever, we all could do with the system catching up.