to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond


Stereotypes, which can form the basis for our prejudices, will have a negative impact at work but can be derived from personal and professional encounters.


I find my own stereotypes come out worst when I'm bicycling to work. In a big city, cycling can be hazardous (not that it's always motorists' fault; I'm less than a saint in how I negotiate traffic). But when a driver cuts me off, I'm amazed at what goes through my head. If it's a woman, I'm thinking...well, you don't want to know. If it's someone visibly different than me, shocking words pop into my head. If it's some white guy, I might think, "jerk!" but most of my negative stereotypes are about people who don't look like me.


I'm sure I'm not alone. So when I hear people saying, "I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body," I let it slide for politeness' sake, but I don't believe it for a moment. Every person on this planet harbours some form of prejudice. We might not like to think we do, but we do. Not having a "prejudiced bone" is right up there with being "colour blind.” Even clinically colour-blind individuals notice a difference in skin colour. We all notice the skin colour of people around us; indeed, it would be insulting not to.


But how do we rid ourselves of stereotypes in order to create a business climate that promotes truly equal opportunities, good employee relations and impressive productivity?


Start by acknowledging your stereotypes.


Rather than aspiring to rid yourself of stereotypes possibly embedded since childhood, it's better to acknowledge them, then aim at making sure your actions don't reflect what pops into your head.  When they do, train a red flag to pop up in your mind before you say anything. Appeal to your rational side, and ask if the thought might involve stereotyping (don't beat yourself up for the thought as long as you squelch it before it becomes a comment).



1) Do a simple audit - it doesn't have to be extensive. Look at the various procedures of dealing with employees, clients and contractors. Is there room for prejudices to have considerable influence? Do you need more people involved in decision making - or at least some consultation before a decision is made?


2) Get others involved in the process - and create an environment where they'll give you honest feedback. Two or more heads are better than one. If you ask others where your system breaks down, they will tell you things you hadn't considered. But they'll only do it if they know you will listen and they can be honest.


3) Act on some simple procedures to get the ball rolling - as it's good to see results.  If you go for sweeping changes, that can be good, but sometimes it's good to pluck the low-hanging fruit so you can see results. For example, look at the questions used in interviews, on applications or tests. Sure there's the obvious stuff such as not asking a person her or his age (discarded long ago) but what are the more subtle questions which can reinforce stereotypes?

This is TIP #22 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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