Stereotyping: A Risky Business

How many times have you made an assumption based on someone’s appearance—e.g. the clothes they wear, their ethnicity, their way of speech?

Observation and inference are natural human traits with their own advantages. But there seems to be a tricky little line between the two and full-blown stereotyping. How can you know the difference and avoid embarrassing and unkind faux paus? Let’s package it up for you.

Stereotyping is a mechanism which allows us to quickly assess people and situations. Stereotypes are fixed and general, applying to a whole group of people—this is where we must be cautious. Forming assumptions about an entire group of individuals may lead to disregarding the unique traits and abilities of all those involved. This can lead to detrimental effects on those individuals’ productivity and well-being.

One study showed that positive and negative stereotypes actually increased or diminished subjects’ creativity. And on a more serious note, older adults are so typecast by our society, that it can pose risks to things like career satisfaction and even health-checks.

The potential risk to productivity and happiness in the workplace should not go unnoticed. It appears that the impacts of stereotyping might be more far-reaching than usually discussed.

But if stereotyping is our second nature, can it really be helped?

A study investigating the connection between categorisation and stereotyping in task-driven situations gives us some reassuring results. The study demonstrated that though categorisation and stereotyping are related, they don’t have to go hand-in-hand. In fact, implicit—or unconscious—stereotyping did not appear to play a role in task-orientated experiments showing racially diverse faces.

This means that it is possible to avoid the influence of stereotypes on the decisions we make. Great news, as the growing issue of diversification is something for all companies to consider.

Tips to curb stereotyping in your workplace:

Engage in team-building.

The workplace should not only be a place of productivity. Encourage people to get to know one another through conversations, team game days, etc. Interacting on these levels breaks down barriers and assumptions.

Encourage participation.

Allow everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts at meetings—whether they are experts or new to the job. Showing your workplace community that everyone matters is a powerful show of faith.

Nurture personal awareness.

Snap-judgements get their name for a reason. Be aware of when you are making a stereotypical assumption of someone. Perhaps consider writing them down so that you can keep track of when they are proven wrong. You never know what you might learn!

Though completely eliminating stereotypes might not be possible, learning to manage these knee-jerk assumptions can lead to a more productive and exceptional workplace—and world.