The Dangers of Stereotyping in the Workplace

It’s often thought that diversity in the workplace only involves race and gender, but in actual fact, diversity in the workplace is much broader than that. Your colleagues or employees differ in a number of ways, such as age, relationship status, education, and even their role in the business. It’s illegal to discriminate on a number of number of factors, such as race, gender, and age and although much has been done to tackle discrimination, stereotypes are still prevalent.

Diversity in the workplace

Stereotyping or labelling people is the result of making general assumptions about someone without finding out anything about them. It’s something we have no doubt all done, with several very common ones – such as baby boomers can’t adapt to new technology and changes, and that people who drive a van for a living are rude and unhelpful. Although uninformed opinions are bad enough, but sometimes stereotypes are enough to actively discriminate against staff. For example, women with children are often judged to be less competent and committed than women without children. A study found that when a mother is hired, she is offered a salary that is 7% lower than the salary offered to women without kids.

In the workplace, deep rooted stereotypes can be dangerous and damage productivity by hurting the relationships between staff members. When people start to fall back on these outdated assumptions to explain each other’s behaviour they begin to look for things to confirm their beliefs. This damages their opinion of them and ultimately stops them from building good working relationships.

So why is it important to see through stereotypes?

As this article points out, numerous negative situations can arise as a result of stereotyping – poor staff performance, high turnover, and lack of motivation. They also prevent managers from getting the best out of their employees. Managers have a duty to help their staff develop and add a meaningful contribution to the business – but if they’re being held back by a stereotype, it makes it very difficult for them to progress. Not only that, but it’s extremely likely that word will spread about the negative business culture, making it difficult to attract new staff.

What can be done to address stereotypes?

As with all businesses, leadership is crucial. It’s easy for businesses to turn a blind eye to stereotyping, so management need to have concrete policies in place – and lead by example by enforcing them. Staff also have a duty to report discrimination to management or an independent body. Education is also key, so businesses may choose to run workshops with small groups of staff to explain what stereotypes are, why they are damaging, and how they deal with stereotyping and discrimination.

Workplace stereotypes and discrimination won’t disappear overnight, which is why a dedicated effort is required. We can all learn a lot from our colleagues, which is why it’s important to have a diverse workplace that represents everyone.


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