How Stories and Stereotypes Shape the Way We Deal With Minorities

Today we are once more going to talk about storytelling. I know – I am a bit biased. It’s one of my favourite subjects, so it keeps on coming up. But today is also different in a way. We are going to talk about the stories that you tell yourself and the stories that influence you. So, as Laura Liswood points out, “we all have our own story about who we are and who others are”. This story is shaped by our parents, experiences, peers, religion, culture, myths and the media. It influences our behaviour unconsciously – how we act depends on which values society has implanted in us. The only problem is: most of the time we don’t realize it.

There are two reasons why this can be a problem. First of all it forces us to act according to the stereotypes created by society. Myths and stories that are passed on from generation to generation are based on the values from hundreds of years ago. Men are portrayed as the knight in shining armour coming to the rescue of the princess. Women as the princess awaiting their rescue.

Yes, we also bring our own perspectives into these stories. But this brings us to the second problem. Our own perspective is already shaped by myths from old times – a vicious circle develops. If we don’t actively seek to change them, the stereotypes of the past will always remain the same.

Maybe that would not be such a big issue, but there is more. In the same way in which we have stories about ourselves, we also develop stories about the people we talk to. “Ahh, I see. He has an IT background. He probably doesn’t have the people skills to be promoted”. While you’re probably not thinking that way consciously, the thought might linger around somewhere in the back of your head. Such unconscious thoughts can have a drastic impact on your behaviour. Without realizing why, you prefer another candidate for the position. Again, without realizing, you send subtle clues that make him feel unappreciated.

He “gets” it. You do not think he is capable enough to be promoted. At this point his chances of success have become almost zero.

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Do you see how big of a problem this is? Stereotypes largely determine who climbs the corporate ladder and who doesn’t – and nobody realizes. We look for people who are just like ourselves, people who are just like those we see hear about in the media, people who fit into the criteria of a successful manager, and give them an incredible advantage over those who are different. Isn’t this sad?

We completely undermine our chances to create organizations that nourish diverse ideas. With people from minority groups stuck in the bottom of our organizations, we lose the chance for different ways of thinking. Our progress stagnates. We stop learning – we do the same things over and over again and expect different results. And this, my friends, is what Albert Einstein called insanity. We should listen to the man. He was a genius after all.

As always I used a book as an inspiration for my article. I already mentioned the author’s name: Laura Liswood. The title of the book is “The Loudest Duck. Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work”. I recommend reading it if the topic interested you.

Last but not least I invite you to discuss about the topic in the comment section. What are your experiences with stereotypes? If you want to share a situation where stereotypes caused trouble for you, please do! Or maybe you would rather give your opinions about how stereotypes develop, how to overcome them etc. It’s really up to you!

 

 

 

Tim

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