Stereotypes and Prejudice in the Workplace

Managing Prejudice and Stereotypes
In our ever-changing global environment, prejudice and stereotypes are becoming increasingly more important to manage.  Due to this, managers must have the ability to change cultural assumptions in their work environments.

What is a Stereotype?
A stereotype is defined as “an exaggerated belief or fixed idea about a person or group that is held by people and sustained by selective perception and selective forgetting” (Cañas & Sondak, 2011, p. 237).  Stereotypes are frequently formed throughout the life of an individual but can also be formed throughout the work life of an individual through distorted information, limited experience, or an outside source’s perception.

What is Prejudice?
Prejudice, often incorrectly interchanged with stereotypes, is defined as a “preconceived idea or negative attitude formed before the facts are known” (Cañas & Sondak, 2011, p. 237).  Both stereotypes and prejudice are inevitable in any workplace and help formulate the organizational culture by affecting interactions and trust.

The Destructive Nature of Stereotypes and Prejudice
Both stereotypes and prejudices are almost always destructive in nature as they create implications of superiority and inferiority that disrupt workplace communication.  Thereby, it is critical for managers to recognize the difference and importance of these terms so that cultural assumptions, whether organizational, national, or ethnic are understood.  If a manager knows the proper procedures for changing these cultural assumptions, the acceptance and endorsement of both stereotypes and prejudice can be overcome.

How Do Managers and Leaders Change Cultural Assumptions?
One such method is through diversity education where employees reflect on the stereotypes and prejudices they have experienced throughout their lives.  These reflections can either be their own personal thoughts, or those they have experienced.  By airing these topics, employees will recognize the stereotype’s or prejudice’s context and origin, recognize individuals for contributions rather than cultural or ethnic background, and aid in recognizing that not everyone fits into a box, opening the minds of both themselves and their coworkers.  Through these exercises employees will learn to be uninfluenced by others’ opinions, creating an open and accepting organizational culture.

Author: Erin Mires is a Millennial, an Organization Development Consultant, the Diversity Co-Chair of LSHRM, and is currently finishing her dissertation on determining the cause of power struggles related to language diversity in multilingual organizations for her PhD in Organizational Development and Leadership.  She can be contacted at erin@ecmconsultingusa.com.

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