Be aware of sector stereotypes
“That nonprofit executive’s salary is too high.”
“Government employees have a lifetime job guarantee.”
“Techies don’t donate enough.”
Do any of these comments sound familiar? Perhaps ones you’ve made yourself?
I describe these kinds of statements as “sector stereotypes.” Unlike stereotypes about race, gender, or sexual orientation, sector stereotypes are socially acceptable. They are said casually, without fear of being offensive.
These are actually insidious stereotypes that threaten community health and cross-sector coalition-building. They can lead to division, finger-pointing and entitlement.
Any type of stereotype assigns individual characteristics to whole groups of people.
Nonprofit organizations: always asking for money, under-resourced, overworked and underpaid, holier-than-thou, self-righteous.
Government entities: mediocre, inefficient, slow, bureaucratic, risk-averse, job security, politics take priority, and stagnant.
Private/Tech companies: greedy, arrogant, detached from the community, and (too) fast-paced. Lack ethics, scruples, and/or values.
Generally speaking, those working the same role will make the most in the private sector, then government, and least in the nonprofit sector. As a result, there’s a food chain effect in recruiting.
These pay disparities contribute to the stereotypes associated with people’s choice of where to work. When a nonprofit employee moves to the government or the private sector, they are “leaving to make more money.” When someone in the private sector moves to work in government or nonprofit, they are seen as “ready to give back to the community.”
Sector stereotypes are so pervasive that they’re internalized by individuals who say things like.
Imagine what happens when individual leaders carry these stereotypes of others as well as internalize those stereotypes into high stakes, cross-sector convenings. They undermine the collective efforts among the different sectors to utilize their considerable strengths to collaborate.
We can start by naming these socially acceptable assumptions as stereotypes, then asking ourselves to what degree we believe in them, and then how they influence our thinking as individuals and as organizational and community leaders.
This is a summary and excerpts from my op-ed, “Beware of sector stereotypes” posted on Jan. 28, 2022, in the Puget Sound Business Journal.
You can read the full version here.