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5 Easy Ways to Eliminate Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threats are real. They affects performance and morale. Luckily, research shows you can drastically reduce their impact with pretty simple interventions. Read on!

Defined as “a situational predicament in which individuals are at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their group,” stereotype threats have a harmful effect on women in the workplace.

Red Shoe Movement’s Principle #7 Addresses Stereotype Threat

Labels refer to any word or expression we use (even tongue-in-cheek) that has an overt or subtle derogatory undertone: Bitch, bossy, competitive, etc. These labels reflect deep-held beliefs we contribute to perpetuate every time we use them. So when women don’t conform to the social norm expected of them and are interested in power, or when they are decisive and have a strong will to carry out their vision, we collectively bring them down a notch or two by calling them names.

In other words, certain expressions can have very detrimental —even if unintended— consequences. Identifying this effect goes a long way to changing our choice of words.

Principle 7 of the Red Shoe Movement deals with stereotype threat

Principle 7 of the Red Shoe Movement deals with stereotype threat

With the help of a nuanced infographic created by Catalyst, we review how to flip five common labels used on women to reduce stereotype threat.

1She’s Too Abrasive or She’s Too Aggressive

This is a case of damn if you do, damn if you don’t, if there ever was one. Women are told that they need to be assertive and express themselves and what they want clearly. Yet, when they do, they are penalized for not being warm and fuzzy. Finding the sweet spot can be quite hard.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than focusing on their style you should focus on their work performance.

In addition: Some research shows that when it comes to feedback, women get more negative personality criticism than men. Things like: “You can come across as aggressive sometimes.” So may I also suggest that you think twice before providing this kind of feedback? Would you say the same thing to Tom that you’re about to say to Lisa? That’s an easy way to assess if you’re about to fall into a stereotype threat.

Knowing the stereotype threat definition helps you guard off any words that may lead to it

Knowing the stereotype threat definition helps you guard off any words that may lead to it

2She’s So Helpful

One of the ways in which organizations can facilitate the promotion of women to positions of more responsibility is by creating opportunities for exposure. Those seldom lie in a support position. When women are viewed as part of the “back office” or the support team, they are less likely to be perceived as leadership material. So although it’s good to appreciate the support of your team members when warranted, if that’s all you do for them, they won’t go as far in their careers as they could.

Solution

Catalyst: When you speak of the women in your team, be specific about their contributions.

In addition: Find real opportunities for every woman on your team to develop and exercise leadership skills regardless of their position. Admins and support staff can be put in charge of leading projects that give them the exposure they deserve. You might be surprised at how people rise to the occasion once you raise your expectations.

Flip the Script Women

Courtesy Catalyst

3She Gets Overly Emotional

I don’t need to tell you that women tend to be more in touch with their emotions than their male counterparts. Or that often, when we are angry we cry. And although this may be a biological response, both tears and displays of anger in the workplace tend to be frowned upon. When it’s women who are doing either, obviously. The social norm that affects men expects them to exhibit anger, assertiveness, and aggression as part of the attributes of male leadership. Not so much for women.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than calling her “emotional” take the time to describe to women the consequences of their behavior.

In addition: Help them learn to explain the reason for their tears while they are shedding them, so their audience is aware they are not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of anger, frustration, etc. Help your male employees identify their different responses to anger when expressed by each gender so they understand women can get angry yet be effective leaders.

4She Lacks Leadership Gravitas or She Lacks Executive Presence

This is frequently code for “she doesn’t look like the current leadership,” which tends to be white, and male. This expression particularly affects women of color because they face a double whammy. Gender and race or ethnicity. It’s trully quite a stereotype threat when you wish to promote more women to the top.

So if you are truly committed to diversity and inclusion at the top of your organization, the current leadership will have to look beyond the traditional definition of executive presence.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than just crossing a woman off explain exactly what you mean.

In addition: If you continue using the old definition of the attributes, abilities, experience you look for in a leader, you’ll probably continue to recruit the same type of person. Get rid of unstructured interviews where “cultural fit” can become an unspoken way to hire people who look like you or your current leadership team. Instead, create a list of specific requirements for the position and a list of questions that you ask all interviewees. Assign points to each answer and have someone else tally all the answers from all interviewees to get you the finalist. There are many concrete, simple interventions you can implement to make sure you hire the best person for the job rather than someone who fits some old stereotype.

5She’s Too Judgmental

Often, when women give critical feedback others consider her incompetent. This stereotype threat undermines women’s leadership chances.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than making it about her leadership style, focus on whether she’s demonstrating good judgment.

In addition: Everyone should understand that human beings are all judgmental. We can’t see the world other than through our individual lens. That lens places a layer of judgment on everything as we can only perceive people, circumstances and situations through our own experiences, emotions, knowledge, culture, social context and so on. So, rather than impose another stereotype threat, which might stop women’s impetus to grow, why not acknowledge that we are all equally judgmental.

As I said in a recent post about an entirely different subject, words matter. They build our reality. Choosing the right ones will guarantee we create a more promising future for everyone.

Cultural Diversity at Work: How Things Are Changing

Cultural diversity at work has become a battleground for innovation in organizations large and small. Don’t miss key insights from Stephen Palacios, who’s been conducting research on the topic for the last 15 years.

Stephen has particularly deep experience in the multicultural space and leads that practice at Lieberman Research Worldwide (LRW.) He also has extensive experience in brand positioning and brand strategy development. He is a national speaker, and has been an editorial contributor to AdAge and HuffingtonPost. His work has been cited in the NYTimes, LATimes, Financial Times, ABC, PBS and many other programs and publications. We appreciate the fact that for the last several years, Stephen has been working with women’s publications such as Essence and People En Español to better understand professional, multicultural women. So, when it comes to cultural diversity at work, he has a lot to share.

Stephen Palacios, general manager and VP at Lieberman Research Worldwide sheds insights on cultural diversity at work

Stephen Palacios, general manager and VP at Lieberman Research Worldwide sheds insights on cultural diversity at work

Recent studies around cultural diversity at work

You’ve recently finished two major studies related to cultural diversity at work. Could you explain what they were centered around?

Working with Essence and with People En Español, both studies focused on African American Women at Work and Latinas at Work, respectively. These studies were the vision of Essence’s Michelle Ebanks and People En Español’s Monique Manso.

Understanding cultural diversity at work means learning to navigate conflicting priorities for each individual in your team.

Understanding cultural diversity at work means learning to navigate conflicting priorities for each individual in your team.

What were some of your biggest “aha” moments? Particularly in reference to cultural diversity at work?

Each study highlighted how significant the role of ethnic identity was in the workplace, for both the individual and her workplace non-ethnic counterparts. Both African American and Latinas have to contend with perceptions of their ethnicities. Whether it be trying to avoid being labeled an “angry Black woman” yet still being heard for an African American woman, or avoiding being seen as over sensualized for both Latinas and African American women, these stereotypes found in popular culture affect workplace dynamics for many ethnic women. Each study went into some depth on workplace communication styles, dress, cosmetics, and other factors of demeanor and appearance that were actively or less consciously being used to navigate cultural identity with workplace identity.

Don't miss "What Is Cultural Diversity?" to learn much more about this topic!

How are cultural norms changing for Latinas and how is this shift affecting them?

The biggest cultural norm shift for Latinas, as found in several Hispanic Opinion Tracker (HOT) Studies by People En Español, is the drive toward careerism. Latinas are obtaining higher education at unprecedented levels, and are entering the workforce with high expectations and ambitions. Their self stated priorities are shifting, as they see career in a more important light, even when compared to traditional roles of wife/mother. This shift is paradoxically creating tremendous optimism on what is possible but also creating cultural tension with their mothers and significant others. Latinas are coming into their own, and are finding it challenging to reconcile their ambition with their traditions.

How about African American women?  

African American women have been leading the charge on women’s issues in the labor force for over 40 years. Their workforce penetration, head of household status and educational achievement have always been lead indicators for women in the U.S. Having said this, they too have rising expectations on success in the workplace, with greater expectations of being their “authentic selves” at work. Expressions of cultural identity such as natural hair, style and more are coming to the fore more often. Black women, especially Millennials, are looking to have their identity recognized and valued more by their place of employment and their fellow employees.

What you need to know about Cultural Diversity Training. Does it work?
It's critical to understand cultural diversity norm shifts to support your team.

It’s critical to understand cultural diversity norm shifts to support your team.

Recommendations around cultural diversity at work

Do you have any recommendations to increase sensitivity towards cultural diversity at work? Mainly when it pertains to women of diverse backgrounds?

Employers would benefit greatly by understanding the cultural dynamics and tensions associated with their Black and Latina employees. Essence found 4 dominant communication styles for Black women at work in the study, each of which led to greater potential for retention and advancement, or not. Black women who understand these communication styles can better identify their personal approach to workplace dynamics. It is equally important that non-Hispanic White employees/employers to be aware of these styles as well. For so many non-Hispanic Whites, the issue of ethnic identity is rarely a factor of consideration in inter-office communication or office culture building – it needs to be.

Any suggestions on how employers can better engage multicultural women?

Start by reading these studies! They are (all modestly aside) insightful, comprehensive, but practical in their use. For non-Hispanic White employers/employees understanding the cultural identity better, devising strategies to celebrate the contribution ethnic employees can make, and incorporating this into an overall office culture is increasingly important. Particularly for those hiring Millennials, and for those in certain industries, e.g. Healthcare.

You can follow LRW on Twitter

More insights from the HOT study on Latinas.

12 Ways in Which Women Perpetuate Male Chauvinism

Most women know intuitively what male chauvinism stands for. What few of us are ready to admit is how much of a male chauvinist we have in us.

Yup. You read correctly. Women have contributed to the education and socialization of generations and generations of men, inadvertently perpetuating male chauvinism in the messages, values and attitudes they passed down to their children. Even today they contribute to the same male chauvinism that affects them so much and about which they constantly complain! And although it’s true that it’s often hard to break with the rigid and powerful social structures that support male chauvinism in the first place, (the subject of a future post) today I focus on how women help to keep it going.

What is male chauvinism?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, male chauvinism is: “Male prejudice against women; the belief that men are superior in terms of ability, intelligence, etc.” Naturally, the dictionary says nothing about how much women internalize male chauvinism and turn it into self-aggression after years of growing up in a society that still condones variations of this behavior.

And before you say, “I’m not a male chauvinist” let me show you 12 ways in which women perpetuate male chauvinism even when we don’t realize we are doing it.

Male chauvinism quote by Luis Vidales - Male Chauvinism started when they invited that God was a man

Women can inadvertently support male chauvinism

1Expecting your male partner to protect you. When you look for protection you assume that because you are a woman you are weak and because he is a man he is strong. You put both sexes in an unfair situation that is not really “natural” for either one. It’s just a male chauvinist stereotype you learned very early on.

2Assuming your male partner is in charge of your home’s financial stability. Why does this responsibility fall on a man’s shoulders and not on the shoulders of both partners? Or even, when the family-stage so requires, on the woman?

3Assuming that you are the person responsible for the home and for the children. Why not assume shared responsibility? When you continue to assume this role unquestioningly, you reinforce the male chauvinist stereotype that says that home chores are a woman’s job.

4Being always the one who takes care of your partner. This includes serving him first, offering food and beverages, laying out his clothes in the morning. Nobody says you can’t be kind towards him. But in order to avoid a behavior that reinforces male chauvinism, make sure he practices the same kindness towards you.

 

Read about achieving work-life balance (or rather, integration) here!

5Volunteering (always) to make coffee in the office. Or any equivalent activity that puts you in a supporting role rather than in a role of high visibility. Whatever enables only the men in your office to shine while you remain hidden behind the scenes tends to reinforce an old male chauvinist idea. Stay away from it.

Read about the benefits of engaging men in your career.

6Assuming that you only deserve what you are offered. Very likely you have internalized so perfectly the message that your boss will give you what you deserve that you don’t negotiate as much as you could. Studies show that given the same job, women ask for less salary than their male counterparts.

Male chauvinism quote by Mariela Dabbah - Women have contributed to the education of men for generations, perpetuating male chauvinism in the messages and values passed down to their children

Being aware of cultural ideas and stereotypes can help you avoid perpetuating male chauvinism

7Making disparaging comments about successful women. Saying things such as, “Who knows who she slept with to get there.” Every time you discount another woman’s ability to get to the position she’s in, you’re perpetuating male chauvinism by reinforcing the idea that only men reach powerful positions through merit whereas women can only get promoted by using sex.

8Making critical comments about women who don’t wear makeup. Let’s be honest: Men don’t wear makeup and nobody would dream of saying they look bad because of that. If you don’t want to continue supporting male chauvinist attitudes, avoid making these observations, particularly in public.

9Criticizing women who choose to remain single or childfree. We live at a time when women can choose the lifestyle that best suits them. For many, getting married and having children is not the path to happiness. Why force them to continue with a tradition that was imposed by male chauvinism centuries ago? Don’t judge them. Live your life and let others live theirs.

10Criticizing a successful woman for not “paying attention to her family. “We wouldn’t dream of judging successful men for working long hours, travelling, and having serious responsibilities that don’t allow them to spend as much time with their families as they wished. Why won’t we extend the same courtesy to successful women? Why do we make them pay such a high price for their success?

11Sending opposite messages to your sons and to your daughters. You could inadvertently be passing on to your children many verbal and non-verbal messages that perpetuate male chauvinism. Here’s a short list to make you more aware of them:

 

• Educating your daughters to obey or serve their brothers

Male Chauvinism definition - Male prejudice against women

There’s nothing biological about ideas of what men and women should be like

• Only asking girls to set the table and wash the dishes

• Encouraging girls to behave well and stay clean and tidy

• Punishing girls when they get dirty or break the rules

• Forbidding girls from going out unless a brother supervises them

• Minimizing the importance of girls’ opinions

• Paying boys for home chores —washing the car, mowing the lawn— and never girls

• Allowing boys to play violent sports, impose their own rules and be independent

• Congratulating boys when they break the rules to achieve their goals and when they are competitive

• Congratulating boys when they go out with more than one girl at a time

• Telling your sons “boys don’t cry”

 

12Not reporting a man who is violent against women. Gender violence is a world epidemic. Remaining quiet when faced with a violent situation against yourself, your daughters or other women is the best way to guarantee that male chauvinism will be live and well for many more generations. Your silence only allows the guilty to continue behaving with impunity. Look for help now!

Male Chauvinism Tarzan rescuing woman

Do you still hope for a man to rescue you?

If you grew up in a culture such as the Hispanic (and many, many others) that still tolerates male chauvinism, you have absorbed a series of “truths” from a very young age. It’s easy to believe these “truths” are unquestionable and that the only way to belong to society is to abide by them. The problem is that behind these apparent “truths” is the false idea that there’s a biological reason for the different roles, behaviors and emotions of each sex. That it’s natural (and innate) for men to show superiority, dominance and aggression. And that it’s natural for women to be weak, servile, emotional, and so on. But the reality is that these are all stereotypes and cultural ideas that can be changed.

And the first step to make this change effective is for you to review your own beliefs, your attitudes, and your words so that you stop perpetuating this male chauvinism that only limits your opportunities.

Cultural Diversity Training in the Workplace: Is it Achievable?

Nobody benefits when cultural diversity training is associated with punishment for something that went wrong in your organization.

Hearing some people’s ideas on cultural diversity training can be disheartening. Some people think this kind of training achieves the opposite of the desired effect by focusing on differences rather than on commonalities. Others believe it offers a forum to lash out against white people. It’s difficult — if not altogether impossible— to get everyone to agree that there are benefits to cultural diversity training.

Cultural diversity training is not a program where you teach white employees how to avoid offending African Americans or Latinos.

Our take is that the main reason why cultural diversity training has such a conflicting reputation is because many organizations remember the need for cultural sensitivity too late— When they’ve been sued or when a big scandal hits the front pages of the New York Times. Naturally, damage control will never be as effective as integrating cultural diversity training into your strategic priorities.

Cultural diversity is an advantage. Don't wait until something goes wrong to offer culture diversity training. Integrate diversity and inclusion into your organization's strategic priorities.

Don’t wait until something goes wrong to offer culture diversity training. Integrate diversity and inclusion into your organization’s strategic priorities.

What cultural diversity training is not

When we talk about cultural diversity, we not only refer to ethnicity and race but also to a wide range of characteristics that make up a particular culture: age, gender, religion, ability level, physical condition, profession, education, and so on. What’s interesting is that when you look at culture this way, you quickly realize that cultural diversity training is not a program where you teach white employees how to avoid offending African Americans or Latinos. It’s more about everyone learning to identify cultural differences in the workplace in order to respect them and capitalize on the advantages of working in a culturally rich environment.

Making everyone feel valued is a stepping stone to becoming more culturally sensitive

Rather than conducting sporadic cultural diversity training in your organization, it would be much more effective to stimulate a culture of ongoing curiosity.

The Red Shoe Movement’s programs and engaging methodology fosters the creation of a more culturally diverse workforce and leadership pipeline.

We see the effects of this approach in our Red Shoe Movement programs. Participants of very different backgrounds interact with each other in an environment that fosters honest conversations about what’s important to each person. In addition, our methodology helps participants recognize what they have to contribute as individuals. As a result, they feel their value reaffirmed – a much-needed step to accepting cultural differences in others.

By recognizing that they have something distinctive to offer their colleagues, people are more likely to accept that others have something unique to offer as well. In turn, this awareness enables people to establish relationships with those who are unlike themselves. It’s by virtue of these individual relationships that it becomes easier to overcome stereotypes.

To truly embrace diversity and inclusion in your organization, you must foster a culture of curiosity and recognize the value that each employee brings to the table. Photo Credit: Picture taken by Bonnie Pfister at Vibrant Pittsburgh event

To truly embrace diversity and inclusion in your organization, you must foster a culture of curiosity and recognize the value that each employee brings to the table. Photo Credit: Picture taken by Bonnie Pfister at Vibrant Pittsburgh event

Valuing cultural diversity takes building relationships

You know how it goes. People say they “hate Muslims, Latinos, Jews,” you name it, but they love their Muslim friend Joe or their Latino neighbor who takes care of their kids.

It’s easier to hate an abstract concept. Once that concept becomes a person with whom you interact and with whom you have several things in common, it becomes harder to hate them.

When people recognize what makes them unique, they can also recognize that in others. Photo Credit: Picture taken at a Red Shoe Movement Kroger training

When people recognize what makes them unique, they can also recognize that in others.
Photo Credit: Picture taken at a Red Shoe Movement Kroger training

Yet, the only way to turn an abstract idea into a relatable person is to offer opportunities for people to interact and get to know each other in a non-threatening environment where they can appreciate each other’s unique qualities, habits, values and traditions. It is quite hard to achieve this level of understanding with only occasional cultural diversity training.

Cultural diversity as an advantage rather than a mandate

The only way in which you can achieve long-lasting, authentic acceptance is by approaching cultural diversity as the fabulous advantage it is rather than as a mandate. Many studies show the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace on an organization’s bottom line and work environment. Without a doubt, making your organization a place that welcomes all kinds of cultures should be a strategic priority in a global economy.

Red Shoe Movement event: The Red Shoe Movement methodology focuses on offering people from diverse backgrounds opportunities to interact and learn from one another

The Red Shoe Movement methodology focuses on offering people from diverse backgrounds opportunities to interact and learn from one another. Red Shoe Movement Event.

In this regard, we’ve seen how the Red Shoe Movement’s engaging methodology fosters the creation of a more culturally diverse workforce and leadership pipeline. Our approach of nurturing diverse talent to flourish in their careers is sustained in the long run by the global grassroots movement with which they engage. This has the effect of putting individuals (mostly women) in the driver’s seat of their careers. Their own motivation drives their growth, which is always more effective than trying to accelerate their growth with external efforts.

When you envision a culturally diverse organization, opting for cultural diversity training is probably not the way to go. Instead, you may want to consider ways to infuse curiosity about others into your organization. Your employees will embrace their multicultural workplace, and they will soon come to see it as a major competitive advantage that the organization can’t live without.

3 Examples of Cultural Differences in the Workplace

It’s useful to recognize examples of cultural differences in the workplace to avoid taking things personally & improve relationship w/ coworkers. Many of your daily misunderstandings at work are nothing more than clear examples of cultural differences in the workplace. Read on!

No matter where you work, chances are you are surrounded by examples of cultural differences. These differences may be due to ethnic and racial background, age, geography, religion, and even the kind of school people attended. (We discussed what is cultural diversity in this blog.)

What’s fascinating is that classic examples of cultural differences are often misinterpreted as mere personality traits. People pick sides, “I’m right, they are wrong,” and nothing constructive comes out of the argument. Knowing how to identify cultural differences in the workplace can give you a competitive edge while putting you in a position to enjoy your colleagues a whole lot more!

There are many subtle examples of cultural differences in the workplace that are not as obvious as how we introduce each other. Knowing about them can improve the work environment. Example: saluting each other.

There are many subtle cultural differences in the workplace that are not as obvious as how we introduce each other. Knowing about them can improve the work environment.

Examples of cultural differences in the workplace

Giving suggestions or keeping to yourself

It wasn’t the first time that Marta’s manager asked her to copy-edit the store flyer. Their company served a large Latino population and Marta was happy that more Latino items were being offered at local supermarkets. As she worked on the flyer featuring the new products, Marta noticed that the items were not being promoted in a way that would appeal to Latinos. She thought of approaching her manager with her observations but she felt that the boss would take them as criticism of the advertising team who had created the copy. So she kept her mouth shut.

Later, when Marta mentioned her decision to Jim, an Anglo colleague, he said Marta’s boss would probably welcome the suggestions. Jim is right. A good manager is usually happy to hear suggestions for improving products or services, something that, for many Latinos and people from other backgrounds, may come across as questioning authority. This is just one of many examples of cultural differences in the workplace. Think about it this way: you are being paid to think outside the box, to come up with unique ideas and points of view that can give your company a competitive advantage.

Examples of cultural differences: What utensils we use to eat, what we eat, whether we share our food or not.

What utensils we use to eat, what we eat, whether we share our food or not, are all examples of cultural differences.

To share or not to share

Many of the examples of cultural differences have to do with how much people share about themselves and their families with their co-workers. How much is too much? It really depends on who you ask.

Latinos tend not only to share a lot about themselves but also to ask about other people’s families. They can often surprise a colleague with a question like, “How’s your aunt Margie doing?” when the colleague no longer remembers that her aunt had an operation a month ago. They ask because they care and they expect others to care about them as well. So when nobody asks Latinos about their sick child or their cousin who got married, they tend to feel isolated and disengaged. If you use these cultural differences at work as an opportunity to learn from each other, you can make it a much better (and humanized) workplace.

Waiting to be recognized

Another one of the most common examples of cultural differences in the workplace is how well (and how much) someone promotes their contributions. Humility is a basic value for many cultures (Hispanic culture included), which means that self-promotion is not particularly appreciated, encouraged or even taught at home.

An example of cultural difference: Waiting to be recognized rather than boasting about your accomplishments.

An example of cultural difference: Waiting to be recognized rather than boasting about your accomplishments.

Latinos, for instance, are usually taught to work hard and keep their heads down. They are taught that they will be recognized by their hard work. But the reality in workplaces across America is that people who fail to speak about their accomplishments are often passed over for promotion. The principle being that in order for someone to think of you when there’s an opportunity, they need to know what you’re good at and what you could do for the project they have in mind.

So the key in this case is to learn to balance your need to remain humble with cultural differences in the workplace that demand that you talk about your achievements if you want to move forward in your career.

These cultural differences in the workplace are the reason why managing a culturally diverse workforce is a challenge. But they are also the fibers that make the fabric of our workplaces stronger. Learn to identify them and value them, and you’ll be several steps ahead of the pack.

What other examples of cultural difference in the workplace come to mind?