A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.
Stereotyping is a cognitive process existing in most social groups and varies according to the context or situation. By associating certain characteristics with a particular group, stereotyping can involve, lead to, or serve to justify a physical or emotional reaction from the individual perpetuating the stereotype.
While stereotyping occurs cognitively, it’s important to note that the stereotypes themselves are learned. They may be implicitly or explicitly taught or reinforced by friends, family members, teachers, peer groups, the media, or society as a whole.
Negative stereotyping is obvious and often involves discrimination based on race, religion, and gender.
Positive stereotyping is less obvious because the individual doing the stereotyping may mean no harm to come to the affected group. In some cases, however, positive stereotyping can be construed as negative stereotyping by the recipient.
To explain this concept in more detail, consider the following positive stereotype examples:
- Asian people are good at mathematics and science – this stereotype emerged during the 1960s with the general belief that Asian people excelled in specific disciplines. However, the stereotype has not been statistically proven and many experience intense pressure to perform as a result. Unable to live up to expectations, some may engage in self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that reduce academic performance.
- Black people are superior athletes – this stereotype emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century. While it is true that members of some races dominate certain sports, notions of athletic superiority have not been conclusively proven. In truth, culture and society determine whether some individuals will play certain sports. Many believe black people make the best long-distance runners. But the majority of Olympic gold medal winners come from a small area of Kenya called Nandi. The rest of Africa, which is predominantly black, is underrepresented in terms of high-performance runners.
- Gay men are more fashionable – this is a stereotype likely to have been created or at least reinforced by the media. Gay men are routinely depicted in fashion advertisements because they are considered effeminate and have a stronger fashion sense more closely resembling that of a woman. In the same way that some straight men refrain from drinking beer and hunting, some gay men do not care about fashion.
Stereotyping in the workplace
Stereotyping in the workplace is also common, with most prejudices based on race, political bias, sex, gender, superiority level, work ethic, and income bracket.
Some of the negative consequences of stereotyping in the workplace include:
- Low staff morale – stereotyping creates a toxic work environment where individuals are subject to constant prejudice, criticism, or other negative actions. This leads to a loss of productivity, absenteeism, and conflict.
- Low staff retention – organizations that turn a blind eye to stereotyping are likely to experience increased staff turnover as employees look for a more inclusive and supportive environment elsewhere.
- Increased risk of litigation – in some societies and cultures, stereotyping can lead to litigation. This is more likely in organisations with toxic or outdated company cultures where complaints are not investigated seriously.
To avoid workplace stereotyping, employees should keep the following tips in mind:
- Consider the things you have in common with a colleague instead of defaulting to the differences.
- Develop a sense of empathy and consider how stereotyping affects others.
- Read widely to learn more about other groups, cultures, or the mechanisms behind the stereotype formation.
- Resist the urge to make snap judgments about people. Never judge a book by its cover!
- Make a concerted effort to get to know people you might not usually associate with.
- Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.
- Stereotyping is commonly separated into positive and negative stereotyping. However, positive stereotyping is still based on generalizations that can negatively affect the affected group.
- Stereotyping in the workplace usually stems from prejudices related to age, gender, race, income level, or work ethic. Empathy and knowledge are two of the best tools employees can use to help them appreciate the differences in others.
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