Stereotypes and Biases in the Workplace

Category: Workplace Diversity
Posted: 08-26-2012 09:59 PM
Views: 2413
Synopsis:

Stereotypes and biases can destroy an organization from the inside.  They tear apart morale, creativity and motivation.  Everyone has stereotypes and biases, but it's how we use them that makes all the difference.  A stereotype is a generalized view of a person based on life experience.  Essentially, we put people in a box just based on a shared trait.  A stereotype can be positive or negative, but always can be dangerous when used at work.  Biases are predispositions to see the world or people in a certain way.  A bias isn't necessarily a bad thing until it offends or is used to the detriment of a co-worker.   In the workplace, we can't allow these feelings to effect how we treat people.

Stereotypes and biases can destroy an organization from the inside.  They tear apart morale, creativity and motivation.  Everyone has stereotypes and biases, but it's how we use them that makes all the difference.  A stereotype is a generalized view of a person based on life experience.  Essentially, we put people in a box just based on a shared trait.  A stereotype can be positive or negative, but always can be dangerous when used at work.  Biases are predispositions to see the world or people in a certain way.  A bias isn't necessarily a bad thing until it offends or is used to the detriment of a co-worker.   In the workplace, we can't allow these feelings to effect how we treat people.

One of the biggest reasons that stereotypes and biases destroy workplaces is that people who know better don't speak up when they hear them.  Many times it is out of fear - the fear of not fitting in, the fear of offending someone, the fear of a confrontation or the fear of getting labeled.   People in general want to be liked and will avoid conflict.  However, without good people speaking up against actions and behaviors that offend and denigrate themselves or their co-workers then an organization cannot truly succeed.  The negative culture of this type of workplace will destroy any chance of an inclusive, creative and positive environment where ideas can thrive and employees can be happy and productive.  It is imperative that employee learn how to speak up in the face of biases and stereotypes.

In the diversity training video and book Ouch! That Stereo Type Hurts diversity expert Leslie C. Aguilar defines 6 excellent ways to speak up and stop these biases from destroying your organization's culture.

  • Assume good intent and explain impact.  In this scenario you must assume that the person is a decent human being with good intent.  For example, say "I know you mean well, but that comment might be hurtful to some people."
  • Ask a question.  Once again assume the person has a good intentions.  Ask a question like, "What do you mean by that?"  In this instance it is crucial that you ask the question in a non-accusatory way.  Your tone of voice is the most important aspect of this approach.
  • Interrupt and redirect.  This technique is exactly as it sounds, you need to interrupt the person and change the direction of the conversation.  This can be done politely enough not to cause a confrontation but strong enough to make your point.  For instance, "Say, let's not go there." and then bring up a pertinent business issue to change direction.
  • Broaden to Universal Human Behavior.  This approach is effective is the trait that the person is highlighting is actually a common human behavior.  For instance you could say, "I don't believe that that is an Asian thing, I think it applies to everyone in the world."
  • Make it Individual.  This technique is quite simple.  Ask the person as question like, "Do you mean everyone from Boston does this or just this one woman?"  This will get the person thinking and make your point effectively.
  • Say Ouch!  The word is a powerful way to stop stereotyping and biases in their tracks.  It says everything - your words hurt me. 

Don't be a silent partner to negative, hurtful behavior in your workplace.  Become an ally and speak up.  Your organization (and the world in general) need more people with the guts to open their mouths and confront stereotyping.  The only truth path to a successful organization lies with the respectful treatment of everyone with that organization.

Charlie Bentson King is a writer and VP of creative content for TrainingABC - a producer and distributor of diversity training DVDs.

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