Oppression, high stress and low job performance are just a few effects of cultural stereotypes in the workplace. Signs that stereotyping might be taking place in your office include sexist or racist jokes as well as certain groups of people being excluded from extracurricular activities and not being considered for promotional and leadership opportunities. Although some cultural stereotypes may seem harmless, it’s important to remember that stereotyping negatively affects employee well-being as well as company profits.
Despite the progress the United States has made when it comes to equality, cultural stereotypes are still prevalent and detrimental. This is bad for business because workplaces that allow or foster stereotyping will likely find themselves with low market share. A diverse staff can appeal to a large number of different people and markets, helping to increase profits. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that by the year 2050 today’s minorities will actually account for over half of the population. This means diversity will only increase in importance through the years.
Finding and keeping talented employees is of big interest to most employees and employers. Talented, educated job-seekers usually aren’t interested in working for a company that doesn’t value diversity because they understand lack of diversity stunts growth and success. In addition to being unable to attract new talent, offices that engage in cultural stereotyping aren’t likely to keep skilled employees long either. No matter how stellar your work abilities might be, if your co-workers are reinforcing harmful cultural stereotypes, you’re bound to be negatively affected and may eventually quit. This high turnover is expensive and can cost employers 50 percent or more of each ex-employee’s salary, according to a 2005 study by AARP.
Most people like to feel included and valued. They want to work at an office that is encouraging and empowering. Cultural stereotypes exclude and marginalize not only the people being stereotyped, but also those who disagree with the stereotype. According to a 2011 study conducted by Forbes Insights, a research division of Forbes, this type of environment does not foster innovation, which is important to the growth and sustainment of your company. Creativity and new ideas are stunted in a workplace full of cultural stereotypes because employees will lack confidence and motivation.
Employees often follow their management's lead. Addressing and solving negative cultural stereotypes in the office starts with company leadership. Supervisors should be in regular communication with their staff about what’s working well and for improvement ideas. A system should be in place to monitor employee retention and factors that affect turnover. Conducting exit interviews when employees quit is a good way to get honest feedback. Companies should indicate they value diversity by employing qualified ethnically and racially diverse leaders. This shows employees that cultural stereotyping is not present or tolerated.
- U.S. Census Bureau: An Older and More Diverse Nation by Midcentury
- Forbes: Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce
- University of Pennsylvania: Managing Emotions in the Workplace: Do Positive and Negative Attitudes Drive Performance?
- University of Pennsylvania: Leading by Doing
- AARP Research Center: The Business Case for Workers Age 50+: Planning for Tomorrow's Talent Needs in Today's Competitive Environment
Sydney Neely has worked in the education arena for more than 10 years, teaching general education, the arts, communication and finance. She holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education degrees from Arizona State University. Neely also holds several state and federal financial licenses in life insurance and investments (Series 6 and 63).