On Prejudice: Why Finance People Aren’t as Boring as You Think
Prejudice is a hot topic right now.
Comedians are talking about it - like Tim Minchin’s comedy sketch about prejudice (it’s about a word with G,G,I,N,E,R in it – but it’s not what you think…). It’s on the tip of the BBC’s reporters tongues (like the news that one third of Britons admit being racially prejudiced). And it’s relevant in business too (like this blog from Mark Lee about 6 reasons people without accountants think accountants are boring).
It got me thinking about the roles that we ascribe to people, and why.
To judge people is human nature. We make sense of our world by putting ourselves into groups. By definition we are who we are, based on who we are not. I’ll explain. If you’re a married working mother of two you are not, by definition, a man, nor are you unemployed, single or childless. Every single one of these ‘labels’ carries its own baggage. But the baggage is attached to the group that you choose to be part of. It’s human nature to form groups, but it’s also human nature to assess yourself (and judge others) based on which group you are, or aren’t part of.
But some groups get a raw deal.
A few months ago I was delighted to be proved wrong about an assumption I had previously made about one group in particular: finance people. I was fortunate enough to interview 6 CFOs about the future of finance. And it was enlightening: not only because I realised that automating business processes (which, disclaimer: my employer, Concur, sells) is the wave of the future (and the present) but also because I realised that the preconceived notion I had of finance people as boring drones who live in dark corners and obsess about numbers was wrong. Well, mostly wrong. Yes, they obsess about numbers but they are not, in fact – as @BookMarkLee states – boring. Not by any means.
Cross-functional multi-tasking is the new black
It made me think that the world is changing. As Garry Cook, one of the Finance Leaders I interviewed said, “You can’t be a person-less finance person any more”. The same goes for any position where you take a senior leadership role. Those occupying positions of seniority in the business world these days have to earn it. And that means embracing multiple roles. As a marketer you have to be a data-head too these days, to analyse all the campaign results and web analytics that make meaning of your work. As a finance person you have to be a people-person these days, to translate your clever numbers into meaningful data for your business to act on.
Are we living in a world of multiplicity, where every person has to embrace a number of roles simply to function? Yes.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.
Multi-tasking is the name of the game in our multi-talented, multi-cultural professional society. In addition to be a master of our trade, we have to be a jack of multiple trades.
Ass-umptions are dangerous
So the next time you think ‘boring’ when you meet an accountant – or make any assumption about a professional who’s worked damn hard to get where they are, stop and think first. The chances are, they do (and have had to do) a lot more than you think. They might even know more about your own line of work than you think…
By thinking this way, conversations become a foundation for commonality, not division. But if you still decide to go ahead and make that judgement after you’ve had a conversation with someone, go ahead. Just remember: they’re making assumptions about you too.