Let's Talk about Stereotype
Stereotypes are generalizations about groups that are often applied to individual group members. Stereotypes can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation—almost any characteristic. They may be positive (usually about one's own group, women are warm and nurturing), but they are often negative (usually toward other groups, teenagers are lazy). In either case, the stereotype is a generalization that doesn't take individual differences into account.
Most of us are familiar with stereotypes. We know that it's bad to make judgments or decisions based on them. Yet everyone occasionally does it. Maybe you've made comments about someone's natural hairstyle, or you've joked with friends about tech support in India. The problem is that these are harmful stereotypes about protected classes (race, national origin), and they often lead to prejudice and/or discrimination.
Let's Move on to Prejudice
Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect attitude or feeling (usually negative) toward an individual based solely on the individual's membership in a group. While prejudice resides in mind, it can be seen in the verbal or nonverbal forms of unconscious bias, microaggressions, and unfortunately, we see it quite often in blatant, public ridicule.
We've all seen prejudice, and many of us have experienced it directly. Typically, it does not come from a place of hatred or meanness—it's just harmless joking or sheer ignorance. Take, for instance, the following examples addressing a Muslim woman wearing a headdress.
"Isn't it oppressive to wear that on your head?"
"No, where are you really from?"
"Yeah, but you aren't like the other ones."
"I bet you have a hard time getting on a plane."
By themselves, these statements (microaggressions) aren't necessarily serious. However, if they keep happening over time, they can easily turn into harassment or discrimination—especially when directed at a protected class, like race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, or disability.
Let's Take a Moment to Discuss Microaggressions
Microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages toward target persons based solely upon their group membership. Microaggressions may seem innocuous or even playful to the provider, but such behavior can be offensive and hurtful to the receiver.
Can you tell me what is wrong with these statements?
"When are you going to have children? You know you're not getting any younger."
This could send the message that there's something wrong with people who don't have children. Or even put someone on the spot if they are dealing with infertility issues.
"I think I have PTSD from that meeting."
This statement makes light of a serious issue that affects many different groups of people, such as those who have served in the military or experienced some other trauma.
"At least you don't look old."
This statement makes the assumption that being older is a bad thing and that looking youthful is more valuable.
And Finally, Discrimination
Discrimination is the behavior or actions (usually negative) toward an individual because of the person's membership in a group.
Discrimination against any protected class is illegal as defined by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and goes against most, if not all, company policies.
This normally comes in the form of people not being hired, recognized, or promoted because of their race, color, sexual identity, gender, age, or disability.
Discrimination creates a work environment that is not only illegal and unethical, and it creates an environment with little trust, low performance, and reduced engagement. All of these can create a hostile workplace where competition is common and litigation is likely.
It's a Slippery Slope
To illustrate the slippery slope stereotypes play in our ways of thinking, here is a simple (if not absurd) example of how a stereotype escalates to prejudice and then discrimination.
Stereotype: All Germans eat sauerkraut.
Prejudice: I don't like Germans because I don't like sauerkraut.
Discrimination: We are not hiring any Germans because they might smell like sauerkraut.
Obviously, the previous example is fairly ridiculous, but it shows just how baseless and unfair stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination can be. Now, in order to prevent going down this path of injustice, we need to understand and put into action a plan that gets everyone "on the same team."
In the next lesson, we'll look at three key components to creating a sense of belonging: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.