A stereotype in an oversimplified, standardised mental picture that is projected onto members of a group. Stereotypes are often created about people of specific cultures or races. However, these are not just centred on different races and backgrounds – gender stereotypes also exist in the workplace and may have detrimental effects on your workforce.
Impact of stereotypes on employees
Stereotyping is not only hurtful, it is also limiting. Even if the stereotype is correct in some cases, constantly putting someone down based on your preconceived perceptions will not encourage them to succeed.
To live up to expectations adds a strong positive connotation – i.e. you worked hard, you met expectations, and you did a really good job. Stereotyping can also cause staff to live down to your expectations in that they could have done a lot better, but they stopped where they were expected to instead of striving to go higher.
Impact on productivity and discrimination
Stereotypes do not only affect the productivity and profits in an organisation but it also hurts the self-esteem of the employees.
Stereotyping can cause people in a workplace to treat individuals or groups a certain way based on preconceived notions about that person or group. Promoting a nondiscriminatory workplace with openness and acceptance of individual differences helps in preventing common negative effects.
Limiting impact of stereotypes on workplace relationships
The use of these stereotypes prevents people from getting to know one another and interacting properly. Imagine getting a new co-worker whose religious belief differs from yours. If you make assumptions about your new colleague based on the stereotypes affiliated with that person’s religion, you might start off with a hostile and unfriendly relationship which could significantly impede your ability to work together. However, if you were to get to know your new co-worker as an individual you would be able either to put aside any religious or political differences for the sake of productivity or to learn some new perspectives and build a strong relationship based on mutual understanding.
How to overcome stereotyping in the workplace
- Acknowledge that you may have a bias.
- Accept that each employee is an individual.
- Treat each person according to their individual ability and contribution.
- Do not allow gender stereotyping in the workplace.
- Afford equal opportunity to both males and females in the company.
- Do not overlook other stereotypes such as sexual orientation or ethnicity comments by colleagues or other employees.
- Build a culture of tolerance and acceptance in the workplace.
- Build positive dialogue around social understanding.
- Keep yourself and staff accountable.
- Perhaps, most importantly, be open-minded!
Steps for creating an inclusive company culture
- Take time to reflect on who you are, the work environment you want to establish, and ultimately what you want your company to be known for.
- Convey this ideology to the staff. Acceptance of others is not conveyed by fancy posters on the wall or advertising taglines, but rather by actions on the ground. Use words and actions to drive positive behaviour shifts, which drive a positive culture shift, which leads to better business results. When employees feel valued, they tend to work harder, stay longer, and produce more, which is a win-win situation for all. Employees generally reflect the attitude of the leader in the business.
- Work as a TEAM. The importance of teamwork cannot be overstated. It involves the joint efforts of a number of people to achieve a common goal. Therefore every organisation should emphasise the importance of teamwork for the overall growth of the company. Stop thinking of people in terms of ‘employees’ or ‘departments’. You are ALL part of the same team, and the effort of every individual is necessary to ensure the success and the growth of the business. Create a sense of ownership and cultivate a shared vision.
High employee turnover, absenteeism and poor employee performance may be signs of stress, lack of opportunity or employee perceptions of bias based on stereotypes. A business with a strong centralised structure and a dominant decision-making style such as “my way or the highway”, is likely to engage in stereotyping and will hire employees “like us”. Occasionally offering diversity and inclusion workshops may point to an inherent previous lack of ongoing commitment to cultural diversity.
SEESA Skills Training offers a CULTURE AND DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE course, which addresses these topics as well as strategies to build a more cohesive and inclusive working environment. Visit our Training website for more information (training.seesa.co.za).