Rankism: Bullying someone of a lower rank at work

When workplace bullying is being committed by your boss or manager, it's called rankism. Here's how to identify it, and what you can do about it.

By Diana Fisher

Rankism: What is it?
Racism. Sexism. These attitudes are no longer acceptable in today's enlightened society. And one day, hopefully, a new "ism" will be taboo in our society: Rankism.

Robert Fuller, author of Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, coined the word "rankism", which is defined as "abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour towards people who have less power because of their lower rank in a particular hierarchy." Basically, rankism is bullying someone of a lower rank.

Tammy, a 30-year-old executive assistant from Ottawa, says that the 18 months she spent working at an insurance firm left her feeling "worthless."

"My boss told me that she wouldn't accept mistakes, and that if I was unsure of how to do something, I should ask questions before attempting to do the work," she says. "But when I approached her, she would act annoyed and irritated, and snap at me that the task was 'a no-brainer.' After months of this treatment, my self-esteem was gone. I felt I could do nothing right. In the end, I was breaking down in tears in the bathroom. I knew I had to leave for my own sanity. After quitting that job, I never wanted to work in an office setting again."

Victims of rankism often suffer long-lasting effects from their abusive situations. As a result of lost confidence, many will have difficulty applying for and acquiring new jobs. Some will seek counselling, and others will require medication in order to pull themselves out of their depressed state.

In Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights Commission protects against bullying and harassment. It says, "Every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability." It also says "Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability." Bullying or harassment of someone of lower rank, however, is not a violation of the Human Rights Code.

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover what you can do to stop rankism on page 2


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