Avoiding Stereotypes in the Workplace
By Gobinder Gill
The truth is that we all stereotype certain groups of people. Many of us have grown up with biases in our homes, on television, at water coolers and when we hang out with our friends and family.
Unfortunately these stereotypes, which we find occasionally humorous — jokes about blondes and lawyers etc. — and think are generally harmless are, in fact, the opposite.
In the workplace, stereotypes are quite harmful and limiting not only to those we stereotype but also to ourselves. And trust me on this, labels apply to everyone and chances are you personally fall under several.
Stereotyping does not only affect the productivity and profits in an organization but it also hurts the self-esteem of the subject.
Types of Stereotypes
Steroetypes encompass every race, religion, gender and sexual preference. They even cover hair color: red haired women are fiery and blonds are dumb. Matter of fact, there are even regional stereotypes, the Westside of Vancouver is better educated, more affluent, intelligent and the Eastside of Vancouver is the opposite. Then there are the stereotypes of Asians who are perceived as hard and effective workers, but are not outgoing. South Asians could be native born, but often are viewed as foreigners. None of these stereotypes are positive or productive in the workplace.
How Do You Define a Stereotype?
One definition is a bias, inflexible belief about a particular person or group. Another definition, provided by Stedman Graham in his book Diversity Leaders not Labels, suggests a stereotype might be an exaggerated image of a person or groups, allowing for little or no social variation or individual differences, usually passed along by peers, family members or the media.
Where Do Stereotypes Comes From?
Essentially we are all guilty of forming stereotypes about others. They come to us from the media, from our family members, from our peers, and from our personal experiences. All humans tend to label others because it makes us feel safe and superior. And it is often easier than to look at people too deeply.
It is easy to be judgmental about those who are different from us. But if we do, we run the risk of forming conclusions that are erroneous and mutually detrimental.
How Do Stereotypes Hurt Us?
In the corporate world, there is a high price to be paid for stereotyping:
- Lost employees
- Poor employee morale
- Lost sales and customers
- Difficulty hiring top-level employees
- Difficulty retraining employees
- Diminished productivity/profits
However, we also suffer personal consequences when we judge people based on biases, labels, and stereotypes. We miss out on valuable experiences, insights, and amazing relationships. We also miss out on connecting with others on a genuine level.
Breaking Down Stereotypes
Breaking down, recognizing, and eliminating stereotypes begins with dialogue. Conversation reduces bias because we learn more about each other and reach an understanding. Conversation also reduces preconceptions by educating us on misinformation and it limits the spread of bias.
Steps to Take to Assess and Eliminate Stereotypes
- Respect and appreciate others’ differences. Imagine if people looked and acted the same. It would be boring!
- Consider what you have common with other people — lots more than you think.
- Avoid making assumptions or creating labels.
- Develop empathy for the others. Try to walk in their shoes.
- Educate yourself about different cultures and groups.
These days it is unacceptable to have stereotypical views of others in the workplace because it can be very costly, not to mention the lack of productivity and profits. It is important to recognize and remember that we all have stereotypes; it is part of the human experience. However, the first step is to be honest and recognize our preconceived notions about others and why we have formed them, and then take an active approach to educate ourselves.
Gobinder Gill is a speaker and an author of “Achieving Prosperity through Diversity”. He provides diversity training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.workforcetranscreations.com
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