When you think of diversity in the workplace you typically think of race and gender, but in reality workplace diversity is actually much broader. Consider your co-workers they differ in a variety of ways such as age, marital status and family responsibilities. All of these differences can lead to stereotyping which may result in workplace tension.
Is stereotyping harmful in the workplace? Quite simply, the answer is “Yes.” Stereotyping, or in other words placing labels on people, results from making general assumptions about an individual with little or no personal knowledge about them. For example, we’ve all heard the spacey blond jokes which is a play on the assumption that all blonds are dumb — but of course, we know that isn’t true. As Dolly Parton says, “I’m not blond and I’m not dumb.”
Unfortunately, in the workplace it’s no laughing matter. What happens when you make these assumptions is you subconsciously start to look for things to confirm your beliefs……and overtime you might pick up on one or two isolated incidents that cause you justify or confirm your assumptions. So you close your mind about the individual which damages your ability to really work well with that person.
Below are some of the common stereotypes which can impact the workplace.
* Single vs. Married: Single people feel as though they are seen in one of two ways. First, they are often thought to be frivolous and more interested in their social life than they are their work. Plus, many say they feel stigmatized by their single status as being damaged goods because they aren’t married. Secondly, some say their married co-workers think they should be able to work longer hours because they don’t have any outside responsibilities. However, on the flip side singles often say they can focus more on their work because they are single and can use it to their advantage to get ahead. While others view their married counterparts as having an advantage because they have a partner to help with outside responsibilities.
* Children vs. No Children. While this typically impacts women more than men, it isn’t just a female issue. But a lot of women say they are made to feel guilty at work because of how they have to juggle their work and childcare responsibilities while at the same time they are made to feel guilty because they’re working and not at home with their children. Employees who don’t have children sometimes feel resentful when they have to cover for co-workers who frequently are absent because of child-related emergencies. Today, about 2/3’s of working women have young children at home so many employers are finding ways to manage this fairly.
* Baby Boomer vs. Generation Y: As the population ages, more people are choosing to work much longer in their careers. The Baby Boomer generation hasn’t grown up with technology as the Generation Y workers. So there is a tension between the tried and true ways of doing business versus the technological solutions of today. This generational gap can create serious friction in the work place. But instead of immediately stereotyping the individual, you should get to know the other person and appreciate each others strengths. Learn from each other.
* Women — Married and Marginalized. Although over half the working population consists of women, there is a prevalent view that women are working to provide a secondary household income. (That actually happened to me in one of my corporate jobs.) That is often part of the explanation for the pay gap that exists between men and women. However, many women today are the primary breadwinners in their families and often the sole provider. Making assumptions can limit someone’s career opportunities.
* Domestic Lifestyle Choice: The term “family” today is taking on new meaning. (Just watch Modern Family.) There are people choosing to live together as domestic partners of the same or different genders. Yet in the work environment these non-traditional family settings don’t get the same respect as traditional domestic lifestyle choices. As a result, an employee who lives with a domestic partner is often not given the same consideration when that partner becomes ill or has an emergency as someone in a traditional marriage.
The bottom line is everyone should keep an open mind and get to know your co-workers as individuals. Avoid making assumptions and stereotyping. None of us is the same and no one fits into a specific category. Respect diversity of all types in your work environment.