A fascinating happenstance that bubbles up while conducting diversity and inclusion workshops is that many people aren’t fully aware of what stereotypes are and how they impact how we think, feel, and act toward others.

Education ends ignorance, which in turn fuels ending stereotypes, so here are 21 things you should know about them.

1. Stereotypes “constitute a person’s set of expectations about a social group’s characteristics, including traits, behaviors, and roles.” 

2. Stereotypes remove individual attributes from consideration as everyone within the designated group is considered to be the same.

3. Some stereotypes are descriptive, which professor Michael Gill defines “as perceivers’ beliefs about the characteristics of a social group and indicate the attributes, roles, and behaviors that describe that group,”  e.g., all women are friendly; all men like sports.

4. Other stereoptyes are prescriptive in that they define how a specific gender should be or is meant to be. Professor Gill puts it this way:  they “depict the specific behavioral norms that individuals must uphold to avoid” being derided or punished by others. Examples include women should be seen and not heard; men are meant to be the bosses.

5. Stereotypes are mental shortcuts that can be helpful, e.g., “the ability to quickly categorize people based on certain factors as a way to identify threats, friends, and other people that you can interact with socially.” However, those shortcuts can quickly lead to trouble if we don’t make the effort to assess the facts before deciding how to treat someone.

5. Research shows that children have definite stereotypes about women, ethnicities. and other social groups by age 5.

6. Everyone uses stereotypes. 

Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, writer

7. They are most commonly learned from parents, significant others, and the media.

8. Stereotypes encourage ingroups (in which differences are minimized) and outgroups (in which differences are maximized). Some people use stereotypes to feel better about themselves, e.g., my group is better than the “other” group.

9. They guide our thinking about others and prompt us to ignore facts that belie the stereotype. 

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or my side bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. ~Wikipedia

10. We perceive patterns of new information as being more consistent with a stereotype then what it actually is.

11. Information that is inconsistent with a stereotype gets our attention and that of other’s. A woman unafraid to be brash and bold or a man who shows emotion stand out.

12. Stereotypes can be changedIf you’re caught in and being labeled by a stereotype, contradict it to change it.

13. Stereotyping can lead to prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination.

14. When we judge people and groups based on our prejudices and stereotypes and treat them differently, we are engaging in discrimination.

15. Stereotypes are “mindless” categories (ones that we accept without thinking) rather than “mindful” ones (those that we don’t blindly accept but rather reflect and consider before reaching a decision. 

16. “The best way to diminish the power of stereotypes is by education.”

17. Just the idea of being included in a stereotype can diminish confidence, reduce performance, and create anxiety. Women who are told—before taking a math test—that men perform better on the test than women score worse then women who did not receive that prompt.

18. Stereotypes are shaped by social context and reflect cultural beliefs.

19. Stereotypes satisfy a “need to understand and predict the social world” around us.

20. Individuals who do not “fit” a prescriptive stereotype often suffer backlash, e.g. assertive women are criticized as are men who cry in public.

21. When the stereotype aligns with the expected profile of an ingroup, those in the outgroup are urged to be more like the ingroup, e.g. women are urged to display masculine attributes to get ahead at work.

Did you find anything in this list surprising? Helpful?


Note:  in my post Stereotypes and Sloshed Coffee I share how I came face-to-face with an office stereotype after being promoted. What similar experiences have you had?




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