Labels, Identities and Stereotyping

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Sumant Joshi September 02, 2020
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In our latest podcast, Meenalochani Kumar, Global Leadership Development and Talent Management at Sutherland distills over two decades of experience across diverse industries in Business HR and L&D transformation, and as an ex board member of International Mentoring Association, she shares expertise in building centers of excellence in Leadership Development, Learning & Corporate Mentoring, Learning Design, Career Architecture, Organization Culture Building, Neuroscience-based Coaching & more. In this blog, we dive deeper into her leadership journey and her thoughts on labels, identities and stereotyping in today’s business environment.

“We all forget and flow naturally into a situation of sometimes being biased, but with enormous practice and lot of mindfulness, we can make sure that we are not walking the path of bias or viewing people with a societal or cultural lens.”

Stereotypes, as we all know, are notions that typify certain characteristics and behaviors of members of a specific people or culture. Stereotypes can emerge from personal experiences, other people or even the media. Our brains are naturally wired to categorize everything as it helps us navigate the society more efficiently, by providing a sense of predictability that we tend to rely on more often. For instance, stereotyping young people as having more enthusiasm than older people is valid, but when we base them on color, race, religion etc. stereotypes are a nuisance and become counter-productive.

While it’s common for us to categorize people, as it helps us mentally organize and figure out the world around, it further extenuates differences between people, and a ‘stereotyped’ individual may not always be viewed for her individuality, skill or talent that corresponds to the business world. This especially becomes more critical as people often resort to using stereotypes while making decisions about peers, colleagues, managers or even end customers with little to no knowledge.

Stereotypes and bias of any kind, be it race, color or gender, in terms of business limits a manager's ability to judge an employee based on talent and skills, and help her develop those skills. One such scenario is, for example, if a manager sees a woman as good with people skills but not equipped to do technical tasks, she would be often overlooked while looking at developing employees’ tech skills in the workplace.

Likewise, bias and stereotyping also affects employees’ morale as well as productivity, which eventually translates to dissatisfied customers and affects the growth of the company. They are more likely to quit due to stereotypes determining their future; and the failure to incorporate diversity and inclusion will most likely limit the company's values, creativity, innovation and competitive edge.

So, what can we do to minimize or uproot bias and stereotyping in the workplace?

Well, leadership is often the driving force when it comes to organizational culture. It is the leadership that must set the value system and behavior standards, in addition to putting policies in place to avoid bias-based scenarios.

By focusing on identifying and removing stereotyping from the organization, leadership stands to retain talent and diversity, and achieve loyal employee-base some of whom might be the future leaders of the organization. And, businesses that do little or nothing to address bias and stereotyping stand to face discrimination claims, or worse, a failing business.

For more podcasts featuring well-known leaders from across several industries, visit Leadership Spotlight.