By Renae Sanders
Stereotypes are the generalized beliefs we hold about the world around us. We hold stereotypes about situations, people, places and things. We are often blind to our views or unaware that do not treat people of other cultures or backgrounds with respect or that we judge others’ value based on media portrayals of beauty, education, intelligence, and ability. We also hold stereotypes about ourselves based on what we are told by others; we judge ourselves to be good or bad, worthy or unworthy, righteous or sinful, all knowing or clueless.
Stereotypical beliefs drive positive (or menacing) affects on businesses. For example, if we hold that the product is great and has value we execute strategy related to the product more passionately than if we did hold a positive perception. If you believe your staff or key members of the team are inept, we treat them accordingly; which leads to lower performance over time. If we believe entire populations of consumers are poor, under-educated, illegal, or unable to understand English, our marketing and sales efforts to those populations and how we treat employees from those groups will not yield positive results or you may miss a vastly important opportunity to grow. In fact, it is conceivable to say we create an environment of self-fulfilling prophecy when act based on stereotypes.
Beliefs > Attitude / Behaviors > Outcomes
To position the business for success, leaders should find ways to challenge their beliefs. Researchers use triangulation to validate assumptions. Triangulation requires three different sources of information. If you rely on a single source for information (such as friends, parents or television), you might consider reading white papers or research papers on the subject and speak with experts for and against your ideas. When it comes to dispelling beliefs about people, get to know them as individuals. We often see people of color and other differences as groups; we don’t allow them to be individuals. It’s common for people of color to be asked about the “collective” views of their entire group. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel/think this way? Is there information that supports a different view?” Another approach is to learn about the contributions all groups have made to our society. As long as we hold one view of history, we remain unaware of a more accurate portrayal of cultural groups as contributing members of society.
Learning to challenge long held beliefs prepares us to make better strategic decisions about the business and challenges our views about the people who work for us and markets we serve. The motto at the University of South Carolina reads, “Emollit mores nec sinit ese feros”, when translated suggests, learning humanizes men and permits them not to be cruel.
Don’t allow stereotypes to stifle your growth or the growth of your business.
Renae Sanders is the Managing Director at KRS Consulting, LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in organizational relationships. Believing people are the link between strategy and success, Renae works with organizations, leaders, and managers to strengthen internal relationships. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.