Stereotype threat occurs when people are placed in situations where negative stereotypes about them are at risk of being confirmed; this can lead to apprehension and poor performance. Examples include an older person taking a memory test or a female taking a math test. In the workplace, stereotype threat and its subsequent effects on performance can undermine an organization’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.
STEREOTYPE THREAT INTERVENTIONS
Various research-based interventions attempt to combat the negative outcomes of stereotype threat, but little research has compared them or examined their effectiveness. New research (Liu, Liu, Wang, & Zhang, 2020) reviews the existing literature on stereotype threat and categorizes existing stereotype threat interventions into three major groups: belief-based, identity-based, and resilience-based.
Belief-based interventions focus on changing beliefs about the negative stereotype. An example of a belief-based intervention is “blurring group boundaries,” in which commonalities between an in-group and out-group are emphasized.
Identity-based interventions focus on changing the strength or salience of the relationship between an individual and the negatively stereotyped group. An example of an identity-based intervention may include helping people reduce the extent to which they identify with a stigmatized group, in favor of stronger association with another component of their identity.
Finally, resilience-based interventions focus on improving the ability to combat stereotype threat. An example of a resilience-based strategy is “improving confidence,” or trying to convince people that they are able to cope with the present challenges.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The authors used meta-analysis (or a statistical combination of many past research studies) to examine differences among the various types of stereotype threat interventions. They found that all three types of interventions (belief-based, identity-based, and resilience-based) successfully reduced the negative influence that stereotype threat has on performance. In general, belief-based interventions were most effective. Identity-based interventions were the second most effective. Finally, resilience-based interventions were the least effective.
The type of stereotype threat also influenced the effectiveness of the interventions. Interventions targeting race or gender stereotypes had stronger positive effects than interventions targeting other groups such as older age or low socioeconomic status. Additionally, interventions that took place in a laboratory were more effective than interventions that took place in the field.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The results of this study are encouraging; they confirm that most existing stereotype threat interventions are effective at reducing negative performance outcomes. Specifically, belief-based and identity-based interventions were more effective than resilience-based strategies.
Organizations can use these findings to improve experiences of employees who may be subjected to stereotype threat at work. As an example, the authors suggest that organizations can implement stereotype threat interventions in order to improve success and retention of women and minority students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). Ultimately, stereotype threat interventions can help organizations promote greater social inclusion and equality in the workplace.
Liu, S., Liu, P., Wang, M., Zhang, B. (2020). Effectiveness of Stereotype Threat Interventions: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Applied Psychology, advance online publication.