Fighting Stereotypes in the Workplace

Stereotypes are perhaps the last word in social ignorance. They are always inaccurate, insulting depictions of social groups. Most people loathe their group's stereotype, and resent any implication that it reflects them, their social group or their values. Getting rid of stereotypical images is an essential part of creating effective workplace diversity and social interactions. Stereotypes can be real obstacles to any sort of workplace dynamic. They repel the people who are being stereotyped and prevent interaction. They also reflect a serious lack of social education on the part of those who believe in the stereotype.

Breaking down stereotypes

There are a series of steps required to destroy stereotypes as a problem in the workplace. The preliminary work will need to be done to ensure that the employer's policy on multiculturalism, workplace diversity and Equal Opportunity is unequivocally understood. This can be done with a simple issue of guidelines. Guidelines should state the employer's policy, and notifying staff that any grievances or disputes will receive attention from senior management.

Stage 1

Group everyone together for a "Get to know you" meeting: Introduce each person; give some background to other staff. Ask them to give a quick introduction for themselves, their interests, and their career objectives. The aim of this exercise is to remove the stereotype and replace it with a person. People's social instincts work on recognition skills, and this introduction establishes an identity with the rest of the workforce. Familiarity with that person will also alter perceptions over time, making the stereotype largely irrelevant in practical terms.

Stage 2

The workforce should receive continual positive reinforcement of multicultural and workplace diversity values. The policy and its principles must be seen to have good practical applications. There are a lot of ways of doing this:

  • Staff recognition, like Employee Awards: These have personal value, and are particularly effective when given to those who everyone recognizes deserves them.
  • Praise should be given where due to all staff: without favoring any group, but establishing clear values for staff to see consistency in policy. This establishes a fair practice regime, and makes the stereotypes even less relevant to the realities of the workplace.
  • Promotion and bonuses on merit and performance: These are true reflections of Equal Opportunity, and performance is a real measure of success. Stereotypes are meaningless in terms of actual performance. High achievers and performers are also the exact diametric contradiction of stereotypes.

Stage 3

After Stage 2, any surviving stereotypes, or related discrimination, represent a potential ongoing problem. There may be some remnants of the stereotyped mindset remaining. Most people react positively, and reorient themselves to a diversified workplace pretty easily. Those that don't, however, can cause serious fractures in the workplace, particularly if they don't respond to the intensive education and orientation of Stages 1 and 2.

Employers cannot support any form of discrimination by anyone in the workplace. It's illegal, as well as regressive, behavior. It may be necessary to terminate any person, of any group, refusing to comply with the requirements of the workplace.