Stereotyping is the act of ascribing a set of traits to a person or group of people based on cultural preconceptions. When stereotypes persist in the workplace, candidates for promotion may be overlooked, work teams do not function properly and the corporate culture erodes. In some cases, lawsuits result from discrimination suits, damaging public perception of the company. Dealing with stereotyping in the workplace should include education of and interaction with all employees, as well as a clear directive to treat every worker as an individual.
Gender stereotyping occurs with men and women. A common preconception about female workers is that emotion overrides logic and reason. If there are few women in the workplace, the expectation may be that they will be overly assertive in an effort to compete with their male counterparts. Male stereotyping includes the misconception that men are inherently stoic and unemotional. More harmful stereotypes imply cronyism among male workers, known as the “old boys network.” This stereotype asserts that promotions and perks go to friends of the boss as opposed to more qualified – and often female – workers. The sexual preferences of both genders may be questioned when a certain gender is scarce in a given field, such as female truck drivers or male hair stylists.
Race and Ethnicity
Racial stereotypes have existed throughout human history. The multinational and multicultural nature of global business demands a broad understanding of race and ethnicity in the face of persistent misconceptions. For example, racial stereotypes commonly ascribed to African-American and Hispanic workers include laziness, distrust and incompetence. Muslim employees may suffer from the perception that they are inherently dangerous and threatening due to their religion. Even positive stereotypes can be counterproductive. For example, the assumption that decisions and efforts made by Asian workers are inherently better due to perceptions of higher intelligence and work ethic may cause supervisors to ignore actual output. Although not necessarily insulting, stereotypes may prove harmful when a certain level of competence is assumed rather than proven individually.
Age-based stereotyping affects all groups. Young workers are considered incompetent due to a lack of experience. This unfair thought process works against individuals who have true drive and a strong work ethic. Conversely, older workers may be seen as “lifers” or simply counting the days toward retirement without putting in much effort. This stereotype ignores years of hard work performed by these employees, along with the experience and leadership these dedicated professionals can provide to younger generations.
What Can Be Done?
Although stereotyping is usually ingrained – based on decades of off-color humor, racism and lack of exposure to people of different groups – proper training can offset it. No business can change what people think outside the workplace, but every business can establish zero-tolerance policies against discrimination. Human resources and management should address individual violations in private. Group meetings, role-playing and training seminars should be mandated in addition to punitive policies for those who violate stated policies. Group sessions can educate employees and help workers get to know each other personally. Once individuals are viewed independently of their demographics, the impetus to lump them together diminishes. Work groups and teams may be organized specifically to mix people of different races and genders in an effort to break down inaccurate perception barriers.
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