I recently came across an article, “Respect: Why Some People Get It and Some People Don’t”. The piece brought to light that we have defined inequalities like agism, sexism and racism, but there’s a new “ism” out there –rankism. Well, it’s not new, but our awareness of it is, in the same way that there is nothing new about the phenomenon of sexism, which has only recently been defined.
Rankism —what people who think of themselves as somebodies do to people they take for nobodies. Rankism is pulling rank, putting people down, advantaging oneself at others’ expense. Rankism is dominating or exploiting others.
Have you ever been in a restaurant or retail store at which a server, or some sort of customer service worker has been treated poorly, talked down to or even yelled at? The answer to that question is always yes, and that is rankism –treating people that we perceive to be lesser than us in a lesser manner because we can. It happens all the time, especially in the workplace.
Author Robert W. Fuller coined the term, and he considers rankism to be, “…the mother of all social injustice.” He wrote Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank to explore appropriate and inappropriate uses of power. His “dignity is not negotiable” message can be put to good use in just about every workplace. While Fuller believes wholly in ranking systems, he contends that the abuse of power, or even perceived power, must be brought to light and stopped.
Author of the post, Elaina Richardson said,
“Instilling respect up and down the chain of command so that we can rebalance our relationships in the workplace, at home, even in how we as a nation treat other nations, is an idea that is not new, of course. But the prospect of a dignitarian movement that links all of these spheres is new.”
The topic of lack of respect, and dignified treatment in the workplace is often met with a, “That’s just the way the world works.” attitude. Fuller contends that a congratulatory slap on the secretaries butt was also “Just the way the world works” not too long ago.
Fuller has lofty goals for us; he believes that rankism will slowly but surely be seen, “…in the same way that most of us have now come to view racism and sexism—as behaviors no longer to be sanctioned. It is not hard to imagine a day when everyone’s equal dignity will be as self-evident as everyone’s equal right to own property or to free speech.”
Breaking down an “ism” has never been easy and it has never happened quickly, but it certainly has happened. Ways of life that we once thought were coded into our human nature, are slowly dying. Fuller contends that the task of tackling rankism begins with placing it alongside the other disreputable “isms” as something that won’t be tolerated.
For an organization, this is a call for leadership to “make it uncool” to take a stab at someone’s dignity, but rather protect it as if it were their own. Fuller said,
“A culture of indignity imposes a tax on its members’ health, creativity, and productivity, so organizations and societies that tolerate rankism handicap themselves.”
There are no checklists or how-to guides on implementing a campaign against rankism in an organization. The deterrent is information, and leading by example. We each have to do away with the frame of mind that there are somebodies and nobodies, and learn the difference between authority and self-importance.