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    Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Part III: Stereotyping

    Stereotypes are everywhere. Just look at the popular delineation of members of certain age groups as “millennials” and “boomers.” On the surface, grouping people into categories based on their demographics can be helpful. An employee in their 60s who is close to retiring will have a different set of concerns and priorities than a college intern. In fact, the entire discussion of diversity in the workplace typically focuses on dealing with subgroups of people. This actually reinforces group preconceptions.

    The problem occurs when people treat others based on stereotypes. A stereotype is a generalization used to distinguish a group. So, when you say, “Basketball players are tall,” you’re expressing a stereotype. You’re using a generalization to describe all members of a group. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the effect of stereotyping in the workplace, and give you tips for improving your organization’s diversity and inclusion training.

    Check out more posts in our diversity and inclusion series:

    Why Stereotyping Can Be Seen as Useful

    Generalizing populations can sometimes be seen as useful in an organization. For example, the DiSC model is a form of grouping or identifying people. The DiSC assessment is used to divide people into four different patterns of behavior: the direct D, the influential I, the productive S, and the conscientious C. Understanding yours and other's communication styles can help you identify motivators and stressors unique to those groups. This can be a powerful tool used to adapt to others in order to be more effective.

    Our brain groups things together and creates patterns in order to make decisions and navigate the world more efficiently. How often do you consciously approach a stop sign with keen awareness of every step of the braking process? You likely see the stop coming, and unconsciously begin to slow to a stop. However, when it comes to individuals and groups, we must be careful so we don't make inaccurate assumptions.

    The Problem with Stereotypes

    Stereotyping is a form of groupthink analysis that relies on broad generalizations. When you believe everyone in a particular group is the same, you’re generalizing. In the context of diversity, if people are individuals, then generalizations are never accurate.

    No matter what sort of group divisions there are, everyone in that group brings their own unique experience or perspective. When shared, these experiences and perspective can expand the understanding, knowledge, and effectiveness of others. There are hardened motorcycle riders who also knit and love kittens. Your shy and unassuming coworker could also be a boisterous extrovert outside of work.

    While creating an inclusive environment where we celebrate our commonalities and differences is ideal, the reality is we all have some unconscious biases—it’s how our brain works. It creates patterns so it can quickly make decisions and assumptions. This same part of the brain, however, can lead us to make quick decisions or assumptions about others without really considering the individual.

    So how do we change the stereotyping, unconscious bias, or assumptions we make about others? Being aware is the first step. Understanding how our brain works allows us to be more alert. Next time you are on a Zoom call, take a look around. Have you made assumptions about others based on how you see them or what group you subconsciously put them into?

    Catching yourself doing it is half the solution. The next step is to sit back and consider the person and situation. Is your perspective based on bias and assumption or observation and understanding?

    In the workplace, there is only one group that matters—the collective group of people working together toward a common goal. Acknowledging what brings us together and celebrating the uniqueness of each individual creates an environment where everyone can succeed.

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    Mandy Smith

    Mandy Smith is Vice President of Training and Employee Development and is responsible for providing SWBC employees with learning and development opportunities which enable them to be more effi cient, eff ective, and engaged. In 2016, she was named a Learning! Champion High Performer by Enterprise Learning! Mandy is a member of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) and is active in the local chapter. She currently sits on the Chief Learning Officers Business Intelligence Board.

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