Have you ever wondered how people will perceive you if you choose to do something? How would your actions reflect on your gender, your race, your generation? This is a concept known as stereotype threat and it affects each and every one of us on a daily basis.
What is it?
Our brains love to classify things. It makes things easier to remember but makes us quick to judge. For example, let’s say that Fiona encountered an alien with a bad attitude towards humans. Now, when she thinks about aliens, she will always remember that alien. Furthermore, if she sees another alien out in the wild, Fiona will assume it has a bad attitude towards humans, no matter what its feelings or actions depict. This need to classify and judge beings is a natural thing, but when we act on those judgements, we are being unfair to alien
2. In real life, this occurs with the various stereotypes that our society has in relation to age, gender, race, ethnicity, and even legacy. Some examples are “women are better cooks than men,” “Asians are good at math,” “men are better at sports than women,” “African-American people are good at dancing,” “generation z is addicted to their screen” etc. This list can go on and on, and even though there is no factual evidence supporting any of these things, we internalize all of these stereotypes, which impacts our judgment.
How can we be impacted less by it?
Let’s say Bill is looking for someone who can be a data accountant at his company, and he finds two candidates with equal qualifications: same schools, same hobbies, same experience. One of them, Robert, is Caucasian and the other, Kai, is Chinese. Without yet meeting them, Bill thinks he is going to pick Kai because of his ethnicity and the associated “smartness.” Bill is being affected by stereotypes threat here, and although it seems like these stereotypes can’t be removed from our decisions, we attempt to minimize their impact. In Bill’s situation, he should have those interviews and get all the information he can about these two people before attempting to pick. If he still has no preference (except for stereotypes of course), he should consult a colleague or flip a coin instead of giving Kai an unfair advantage over Robert.
1. Acknowledge the stereotypes that are placed upon us.
a. The first way to combat any problem is acknowledging it exists. No matter which situation you are in, if you are thinking “How does this decision reflect on my kind,” then you are experiencing stereotype threat, no matter what “my kind” is in context.
2. Remember that society is changing.
a. Usually, the stereotypes we feel were created centuries ago or decades ago. To combat the influence of them, we must remember that the world is changing: it’s progressing to a more inclusive place. This means that we are not required to base decisions on these classifications.
3. Choose based on our enjoyment and our preference instead of society’s.
a. Although implicit bias is nearly impossible to ignore, we can ask ourselves why we are making the decisions before we make them. If it is for the wrong reason, based on race, gender, age, then we should consider once again whether the stereotypes are truly worth giving into.
Haas Hall Academy