WORKPLACE / MAR. 29, 2015
version 2, draft 2

How Stereotyping Can Drain Your Performance

Stereotyping has rightly gained an extremely negative reputation.  Despite this, however, I’m sure we can all recall instances where we’ve encountered it, either in our personal or professional lives.

See Also: How to Beat the Stereotypes about Stay-at-Home Moms

This has manifested itself in numerous ways. For instance, there are numerous stereotypes around the relative science and math abilities in men and women. Despite plenty of evidence showing that there is no actual difference, studies have found that our perceptions don’t always follow this version of reality.

For instance, when people were asked to judge a potential candidate for a role requiring strong ability in maths, the male candidate was nearly always chosen, despite their qualifications, experience and ability being no different to that of a female candidate for the job.

The male candidates for that fictitious job were selected nearly twice as frequently chosen as the female candidates. What’s more, the stereotypes were applied just as much by female recruiters as they were by male ones, which only goes to highlight the complexity of the situation.

Interestingly, this bias persisted even when the recruiters were shown test scores for each fictitious candidate, which made it explicit that they were both identical in their maths skill. The researchers suggest that the fault is a kind of ’implicit association’, whereby the stereotypes we hold find their way into our decision making ability.

Sadly, this form of stereotyping is a frequent occurrence.  A study, published by researchers Joshua Aronson and Claude Steel, found that even straightforward things are enough to invoke stereotyping. For instance, they found that ticking a box on a form to confirm our sex was enough to prompt stereotypical thinking about that gender.

The smallest of triggers

The study found that even the smallest of triggers to remind people that they were female, or black, before they then attempted to perform a task that stereotypes suggest they will be bad at, contributed to lower performance on that task. When no such triggers were employed, however, the participants did just as well as the white, male members of the group.

The paper suggests that this drop off in performance is likely to have been caused by the distraction stereotyping can cause. All it takes is the merest hint of a stereotype to be present for people who suffer from them to think about them subconsciously, which takes up enough of their mental energy to contribute to a drop in their performance.

Interestingly, the results revealed that this fate was not felt by everyone in the group. It emerged that people need to have a particularly fixed mindset about their capabilities for negative implications of stereotyping to affect their performance.  The authors suggest that this reinforces the importance of encouraging what’s known as a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. They believe it’s much easier to work on this than it is to try and alter the complexities of stereotyping in the wider world.

See Also: The Stereotypes of the STEM Career

Now you’re aware of this, can you think of any circumstances where you might have succumbed to stereotyping yourself? Let me know in the comments below.

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