How Do Perceptions of Others Affect Diversity in the Workplace?

Workplace diversity programs aim to dissolve stereotypes about people.
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Many employees hold on to stereotypical images of their co-workers that are based on people's age, race or gender. The objective of a workplace diversity program is to tear down those myths. Diversity efforts seek to foster a spirit of collaboration and inclusion within a company so that all employees feel they can thrive. Organizational leaders recognize that one of the first steps in building this culture is to ask how people's perceptions of others affect diversity in the workplace.


    Workers make broad assumptions about their colleagues, sometimes without realizing they are pigeonholing an entire group. For example, different generations of workers sometimes portray each other as under-performing based on specific behaviors. Younger employees might dismiss their older peers as being behind the times with new technologies. Likewise, older workers who are rooted in a standard 8-to-5 work routine might be resentful when a younger colleague adjusts her schedule so she arrives an hour after everyone else but works later into the afternoon. Both groups are guilty of buying into generational stereotypes, with younger workers believing older staff members cannot figure out the latest gadgets and older co-workers thinking their youthful counterparts are lazy, according to a report in "The Charlotte Observer."

Self Perceptions

    Some employees worry about making mistakes that could reinforce negative images aimed against their own demographic groups. Social psychologist Claude Steele calls this subconscious self-handicapping, according to DiversityInc website. This cycle of fear leaves some young women nervous that they will underperform in mathematics, compared to their male peers. At the same time, many white males believe Asian employees are superior in mathematics. Steele, a former provost at Columbia University, theorizes that this apprehension could be turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy when males score higher on math exams than females and again when Asians outscore white males. These self perceptions turn into personal stumbling blocks.


    Diversity programs themselves sometimes are cast in a negative light. These initiatives can be typecast as tokenism or as systems that push political correctness instead of fairness. Employees may believe that only certain groups are rewarded for their workplace contributions, such as minorities and women. And, members of those same demographic groups worry that everyone else will perceive them as climbing the career ladder because they fall within a defined category, and not because of their individual talents. Some employees – such as white males -- say they are excluded from diversity efforts.


    Diversity champions use straightforward communications to dismantle stereotypical perceptions. Open forums where employees can vent often become turning points in tackling stereotypes and making everyone feel valued, according to the WomensMedia website. Resistance can wane when employees listen to their co-workers’ observations and frustrations and realize other groups feel excluded when it comes to promotional opportunities and rewards. Discussions can raise awareness that diversity is not only about acknowledging differences. Inclusion also is about recognizing differences among employees regarding their physical, educational, marital and parental statuses. These candid exchanges reinforce the importance of interacting as individuals, and not as groups.

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