How to Reduce the Harmful Effects of Workplace Stereotypes

diverse group of coworkers

Stereotypes are quite common, but they are not always bad. Sometimes, we can stereotype someone in a positive way, and sometimes stereotypes are helpful because they reduce the amount of critical thinking a person has to do. The danger is when stereotypes are inaccurate or negative. This can lead to discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Organizations spend large sums of money every year on training that aims to raise awareness and minimize the negative effects of stereotyping. A recent study (Duguid & Thomas-Hunt, 2015) investigated whether creating greater awareness of stereotyping and encouraging resistance to stereotypes is the best way of curbing their harmful effects.


The researchers conducted a series of studies on three distinct social groups, older adults, females, and overweight people. The studies focused on the effectiveness of different messages given to employees about the prevalence of stereotyping, and the way to resist acting on these stereotypes. For example, in one study some participants were given a message that the vast majority of people are prone to stereotyping and that the participant should try to avoid stereotyping. Another group was given a message about the low prevalence of stereotyping and also to avoid stereotyping. Two other groups were given these same messages but were not told to avoid stereotyping. The researchers determined what effect this would have on how much participants expressed stereotypes. The study revealed that messages about the low prevalence of stereotyping in society yielded lower levels of stereotype expression than messages about how common stereotyping is.

Another study focused on females who were involved in compensation negotiations. The study also considered the different expectations of appropriate behavior for males and females. The researchers hypothesized that when behavior went against common stereotypes (e.g., women behaved in a more forward and forthright manner) that resistance and unfavorable reports would result. Those who received the message that stereotypes are prevalent evaluated the female negotiators as less warm than the group that was not given any message. They also were more likely to say that they did not want to work with people like that. Those who received the message that stereotyping is not very prevalent were the most likely to rate the female negotiators as warm and state that they would work with females like that.

In the final study, participants were given a negotiation task. The researchers found that messages about the prevalence of stereotyping along with messages about how to counter these perceptions could influence stereotyping expressions as well as the behavior of the participants. For example, men who received the message about the high prevalence of stereotyping were more likely to act assertively in a competitive task.


This study has important implications for how organizations can use different types of messages to reduce the harmful effects of stereotyping in the workplace and advance diversity initiatives. For example, awareness of the general prevalence of stereotypes may not altogether hinder stereotypic expression, but may rather increase it. In other words, some people may be less likely to try and hide their stereotypical views when they know that most people engage in stereotyping. However, creating a culture where individuals have a heightened awareness of others’ efforts to counter stereotypical beliefs can help reduce stereotypical expression and behavior.

Duguid, M. M., & Thomas-Hunt, M. C. (2015). Condoning stereotyping? How awareness of stereotyping prevalence impacts expression of stereotypes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 343–359.