What Is Professional Identity?

Sociologists and others have discussed with curiosity over the years whether business is a profession. We decided it is, because that’s the way we can form distinctive students who will deliver the highest possible value to society.

Most people are familiar with the classical professions: law, medicine, engineering, and others. Precise definitions of ‘profession’ vary, but they typically include a significant intellectual component (often requiring graduate school and/or an apprenticeship), discretion (responsibility for the client served), barriers to entry (like the bar exam for lawyers), dual obligations (to the immediate client and to the system in which the professional works), and self-regulation (e.g. doctors and lawyers typically sit in judgment of other doctors and lawyers for professional ethics matters).

Business doesn’t fit all the criteria. So Wake Forest decided to do something bold. We’ll go ahead and claim all the duties and obligations of professionals. Others can have academic discussions about whether businesspeople get the privileges.

Our students are welcomed into the business school and educated as members of the noble profession of business: they are charged to conduct themselves honorably and as stewards of the whole profession, not merely their individual success.

The BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism, as theĀ proponent of this concept in the School of Business, has worked with the leadership of each academic program to design coursework and co-curricular experiences that form students along two primary dimensions of professional identity:

  1. Embrace a Professional Identity. Graduates understand what honorable business is, and embrace an integrated identity as members of the noble profession of business.
  2. Steward the Profession of Business. Graduates understand and commit to stewardship of the honor, tradition, and productive and innovative culture of their profession, and work to strengthen their community using the skill and expertise of their professional training.

Each academic program also includes assessment points to insure that we are living up to the obligation we have taken on to prepare business professionals. The real assessment, of course, is the spirit with which our graduates engage the business world for the duration of their careers.