to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #21 — DEALING WITH PREJUDICES - part 1

Our own prejudices form the greatest barrier to creating an inclusive working environment. Prejudice means having pre-conceived ideas or pre-judging, and every one of us judges people before we know anything about them. To get beyond these barriers, we have to acknowledge that our own biases exist. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides human rights protection in addition to the human rights legislation at the federal, provincial and territorial level. The federal and many provincial governments offer employment equity programs designed to "level the playing field." Though well-meaning, they are only as good as the level of buy-in among those who supervise people in the workplace.

 

When I first embarked on a career in human rights, I worried that I wasn't "pure" enough on this account. I knew I had deep-seated prejudices from being exposed to years of stereotyping. Eventually, I got over the notion that only the pure could operate in this arena. None of us is pure. But if we're smart, we learn to

challenge ourselves, and to live within the law.

 

Stereotypes involve focusing on one, usually negative, characteristic of a person, then applying that to all others of a similar group. When women first started driving, it was common to hear the statement that women were bad drivers. Then it was said about Chinese drivers. I once had a Chinese woman tell me that it's not true all Chinese are bad drivers. She insisted only those from Mainland China, not from Hong Kong like herself, are bad drivers. It was a good lesson for me that stereotypes come from everyone and apply to all people.

 

Stereotypes get reinforced every day. My grandparents on my mother's side, Harriet and George McLean, came from Scotland, which gives me at least 50% Scottish heritage and all of us know the most common stereotype for Scots is "cheap." If we use this example, anytime you witness Scottish people being cheap, that picture stays in your mind. If a non-Scottish person is cheap, you might think "cheap b___", but since it doesn't fit your stereotype, you discard it and don't associate it as a defining characteristic of that person or his ethnicity. You notice him, but you don't lump him in with a group based on any of his known characteristics. However, when you witness the same behaviour in a Scottish person, your mind automatically jumps to a conclusion based on your mind's defined picture of Scots being cheap. All of which leads you to swear on a stack of Bibles, Korans or Torahs that all Scottish people are cheap; after all, you've seen it! And yes, I have my own cheap moments...

 

You don't think your mind works this way? Think back to the last time you bought a new car. Did you notice more of your new make of car on the road than usual as you drove it home? That's how filters - and stereotypes - work. We remember those things that fit our already established ideas and forget those that do not.

 

From a business perspective, stereotypes can have a huge impact. If we turn people down (for employment or promotions) based on negative stereotypes, and help others along due to positive stereotypes, we make it ever more difficult for ourselves to bury preconceived notions and allow the best people to shine.

 

The opposite of being ruled by stereotypes is building an inclusive workplace where people notice, value and learn from differences, but make an effort not to pre-judge. It's not easy.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Consider various forms of stereotypes - as there are so many of them. What do others say about women, men, persons with dark skin or persons from different cultures? Give them some thought and see how often we have these thoughts.

 

2) Notice the comments others make - as they can be quite direct, or subtle. As a bit of homework, see how often people lower their voices when they say "gay" or "black", as if it's a bad word. You'll be surprised. You'll also be surprised how often people use a difference when noting an encounter between people. For example,

if two drivers are in a collision, there will be a reference to the colour of skin if the person is dark-skinned, but no reference to the light-skinned person. If colour of skin was important for one person, you'd think it would be an importance for both people involved in the collision.

 

3) Look to your own behaviours first - as that's a good place to start. When you hear the comments of others, you might notice how you make the same comments.  When you do, you have an opportunity to consider the things you say and make any changes you think are appropriate.

This is TIP #21 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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