How the term Professionalism Hinders Belonging and Wellness Culture
I remember saying “I am a black woman in leadership who has a low register tone tasked to provide feedback to people whose academic programs and supervisory experiences have not provided their contact with a ‘me’ as a professional”
We need objective measures in place. Between us.
There is another side of professionalism that leaders face and that is being accused of being unprofessional. This unprofessionalism term is used haphazardly across syllabi, collegial encounters and stories, and practice policies based upon “I think” operationalized to sound like the gospel.
And if you are accustomed to sitting in the pews, the filtered truth with tones of authority and conviction, can sound like The truth.
And if you are accustomed to sitting in offices, you also know that all tears and complaints are not created equal. The tears of the black woman are typically not seen in the same light in comparison to the tears of the nonblack woman, no matter the nonblack woman’s professional level or stead in life.
Let that marinate.
When we tackle professionalism, we must see the angles. All of them. Tackling professionalism also requires us to understand the line of accountability and professionalism. We also need to understand the undercurrents of resource knowledge, communicated knowledge, and communication equity within the spaces of accountability and professionalism.
I have been mentored by people who either required or created the operational definitions associated with evaluative processes. My mentors are within the clinical industry and outside of it who have achieved top-level leadership positions. The majority of them are black. A slither are non-black. The truth is we know operational definitions benefit those being evaluated and those evaluating. Operationally defining engagement, relationships, and even the evaluation process levels the expectations and provides a basis for discussion and level setting.
The reality is
- Academic and supervisory experiences don’t readily have the frequency of contact with non-white colleagues teaching critical course work in comparison to white colleagues.
- The reduced frequency of contact of students with non-white academic and supervisory leaders robs them of the ability to develop repertoires of reframing what intelligence looks and sounds like
- We know that operational definitions are important, yet we do not use them readily except inside of treatment
Well, let’s look at concepts like professionalism, demeanor, and professional behavior. There is a wide space in the academic and professional worlds, where these terms are used right next to diversity statements. To go on, these terms are defined based on the learning history and emotional capacity of the writer. And then they are weaponized when critical or crucial conversations ensue. The terms surrounding professional behavior are tossed around in syllabi, supervision contracts, and professional evaluations as a way of setting the tone expectations of behavior for engagement with the writer or leader of the academic or clinical industry space.
To be labeled as unprofessional implies that something is wrong with the person who acted or communicated outside of the boundaries. The offense here is that the implications of the word cut deep, are long-lasting, and socialized within the academic or industry workplace. Being identified as such creates a level of “second-guessing” that no person deserves.
Are we in the practice of operationalizing professional terms as weapons…
- in behavior science?
- In teacher education programs?
- In speech-language pathology programs?
- Inside Industry and Clinical Practicum and Supervisory experiences?
- Inside industry and clinical workplaces?
Absolutely! It happens alongside warm and fuzzy terms like allyship.
Some are talking about what’s happening and casting phrases like “we don’t do that here at TW Autism Center or University of Blah Blah?”
But wellness cultures built on perfectionism, casting stones, and professionalism and its associated terms, are not wellness at all.
The stones being cast are weapons to align and isolate. If that is the external unintended marketing of the organization and its leaders, then you will see that professionalism has a socialized way of being and communicating
- tonal quality
- Visual imprint or look
Anything outside of that socialized way of being is unprofessional. And that is the problem. The House is Burning and we know it. It’s just that to apply water, would mean removing the oppressive phrases and wording that has made it work.
What are the replacement behaviors? What are the solutions?
Mission-minded and focused. Missions usually sound bold, humble, and clear about the outcome. Missions don’t have a look or sound for their people. Missions have outcomes based on metrics and the story. Missions should be mixed methods because the data and its story matter.
Missions don’t create a professional demeanor based on the learning history about what professionalism IS from the evaluator.
And let’s face it, there is the fact that some truth cannot be handled because we are underdeveloped. I am personally challenged by this when I encounter the underdeveloped writers of policy, syllabi, and such exacting professional rules because of their subjective frames. It happens more times than we all want to admit.
How do we change this?
- Mission-minded and developing of metrics that match the mission.
- If you need paragraph(s) to explain professionalism, then it shouldn’t be in the policy or syllabus
- Realize that learning histories frame how each person sees professionalism, demeanor, and professional behavior. The learning history of the evaluator majorly sets the frame.
- Recognize the ethical problem, elitism, and error in ‘we are all learning’, and still subjecting others to an evaluation process that you are learning in your own personal development.
Remember, we know what to do, we even know what’s right, and what to stand up for…and like relationships, some habits are meant to be broken and reimagined.
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Thank you for reading.
Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP, BCBA
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