Whenever you hear "There was this blonde who walked in a bar..." you are listening to a joke based on a stereotype. Inevitably, the blonde will do or say something to illicit chuckles and someone will nod in agreement that blondes really should get a clue. Stereotyping colors is the way people perceive the world but they unfairly categorize people based on generalities. That kind of talk has no business in the workplace. But employers can limit stereotyping with a little effort.
Use the company newsletter to educate employees about the prevalence of stereotyping and how it affects the workplace. Mention how stereotyping reduces productivity and may be viewed as discrimination, which can limit an employees career options and harm self-esteem, not to mention open the door to legal action. Employees who overhear others making stereotypical comments may see the workplace as a dreadful place to work where their accomplishments are devalued.
Provide employees with discrimination and cultural awareness training. During training, use tools to show how people prejudge others by common generalities. Make a list of occupations, such as fireman, day care worker, police officer, secretary, doctor and nurse. You may want to expand the list to include people from different nationalities or age brackets. Have employees list characteristics of workers in these professions. Point out when employees assume one profession is masculine and another is feminine or age or physical appearance is listed as a trait.
Develop a discrimination policy that protects the company and employees. Define discrimination and how it correlates to stereotyping. Give employees guidelines for identifying offenders and how to report them. Clarify the company has a zero tolerance policy and spell out the repercussions for violating the policy. Make sure each employee signs the policy and keep a copy in their personnel file. You do not want an employee to claim she did not know the rules.
Create opportunities for employees to interact with each other and people of different cultural backgrounds. Learning about people different from themselves is a terrific way to show them how inaccurate the stereotypes are. Celebrate Cultural Awareness Week, and encourage employees to participate. You may want to offer a reward for creating cultural awareness bulletin boards or provide a company lunch to employees who agree to speak in front of an audience about their race, religion and nationality.
- Keep in mind that discrimination is illegal. If you fail to educate and protect employees from discrimination and stereotyping, you could face a lawsuit.