Do You Stereotype?

With the world more mobile and diverse, diversity has taken on new importance in the workplace and life.


Stereotypes vs. Biases


A stereotype is a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. One who stereotypes generally thinks that most or all members of an ethnic or racial group are the same. Typical words used with stereotyping include: clannish, aggressive, blue-collar, lazy.


Bias is a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. The use of bias is more subtle. Often it is evident through the addition of qualifiers or added information to spoken statements. For example, you may hear “Jane González, who has a degree, will be joining our staff”, implying that having a degree sets this individual apart from most Hispanics, who may not have degrees.


Identifying Your Baggage


Baggage is defined as intangible things (as feelings, circumstances, or beliefs) that get in the way.


From an early age, you learn to place people and objects into categories. As you grow up and are influenced by parents, peers, and the media, your tendency to label different racial, cultural, or other groups as superior or inferior increases significantly. This can be referred to as your baggage.


Though often you are unaware of what constitutes your baggage, you can begin to uncover it by monitoring your thoughts when you encounter an ethnic last name, see skin color, hear an accent different than yours, interact with someone who has a disability, or learn that a person is gay.


As these events occur, look for consistency. Do you have the same reaction to members of a given group each time you encounter him or her? Ask yourself: “Do I have these reactions before — or after I have a chance to know the individual?” If the answer is before, these are your stereotypes. Work to label these automatic responses as stereotypes and remind yourself that they are not valid indicators of one’s character, skills, or personality. Because stereotyping is a learned habit, it can be unlearned with practice. And remember not to judge yourself; a thought is private, and not an action.


Understanding What This Means


Knowing as much as you can about your ethnocentrism helps you recognize how discomfort with differences can prevent you from seeing others as “fully human”. With practice, you can identify feelings and thoughts, filtering them through a system of questions designed to help you change your baggage or perceptions.


Changing Your Personal Approach


Once you’ve identified and understood your baggage, what do you do to make changes? Often, the beliefs you hold are the result of your own cultural conditioning; they determine whether you will seek rapport with individuals who are different from you.


The first step is acknowledging that you’re human, will probably make some mistakes, and likely do have some stereotypes. Next, work to become more aware of your inner thoughts and feelings — and how they affect your beliefs and actions.


We typically make a judgment about someone in less than 30 seconds. To change your personal approach to diversity, try these steps when you make contact with a new person:


  1. Collect information

  2. Divide out the facts from your opinions, theories, and beliefs

  3. Make judgment based only on the facts

  4. Periodically refine your judgment based on the facts

  5. Try to continue expanding your opinion of the person’s potential.


When you have a stereotypical thought about a group that is different from you, follow it up with an alternative thought based on factual information that discounts the stereotype. Engage in honest dialogue with others about race that at times might be difficult, risky, or uncomfortable, and look for media portrayals of different races that are realistic and positive.


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