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The Scary Truth: Stereotypes at work and what we can do about them

As of August 2022, there are approximately 32.8 million people employed in the UK.  That huge figure includes people from all over the UK, aged 16+, of all genders, religions, abilities and more. As you can imagine, the workplace is very diverse. There are many benefits to this. 

However, there are several stereotypes that can impact the way people work and interact with each other in the workplace. In this blog, we want to highlight some of the most common stereotypes and how you can help to challenge it and educate others. 

What is a stereotype? 

First, it’s important to be clear on what a stereotype is. It is an assumption made about a person or group of people because of their characteristics. These could include, but are not limited to the Equality Act 2010 Protected Characteristics: 

  • Age
  • Disability 
  • Gender or Gender Reassignment 
  • Sex 
  • Race 
  • Religion 
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Marital Status
  • Pregnancy and Maternity

Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or neutral, however the overall impact of them can be harmful. In the workplace, stereotypes could impact anything – from hiring a candidate, to working with someone in your team, or even working with customers. It’s important to be aware of them and how you can challenge them to make the workplace a fairer place for everyone. 

Teacher speaking to student using hand gestures to explain subject

The impact of stereotypes at work 

Stereotyping can negatively impact colleagues, customers, and others in many ways. Before staff are hired, it can impact who is offered interviews or roles as managers may stereotype in the hiring process.  

Then, in the workplace, the day-to-day culture is changed – people who are stereotyped may feel less belonging and less comfortable around colleagues just because of their characteristics. It may normalise certain behaviours such as jokes or beliefs about teams or departments in an organisation. 

Stereotyping can also have further impact, potentially leading to more discrimination of any kind, such as racism or sexual harassment. This all has legal implications and would hugely impact any organisation or team member.  

One well known numerical example of the impact is the gender pay gap. Because of stereotypes in the workplace around gender, for every £1 the average man earns, the average woman earns 82p (Government equalities office, 2017). The further impact of this means women may afford less, have less opportunity, and need to work more for the same income. This has further social, economical and physical impacts. 

While we don’t all have the power to change what our colleagues are paid, we can at least educate ourselves how to challenge stereotypes socially, to help educate others on their presumptions and encourage them to think twice before making a judgement.  

How stereotypes could be challenged and prevented 

Stereotypes can best be challenged and prevented by educating yourself and increasing your self-awareness on the way you see and treat others.  

Question yourself. For example, if you have a new member of staff start in your team, try not to make judgements about them before you have seen their work. You may have initial thoughts, such as that they might not be a great part of the team or a good hire – question why you think this. Is it because they are younger or older? Is it because they look different to you or the rest of the team? Is it because they have different personal values or beliefs? Asking these questions and reserving judgements on work until you have seen the work is a great way to challenge stereotypes not just in your own mind but your team’s too.  

If you hear another colleague stereotype a team member, you should respectfully let them, or your manager, know that they have stereotyped. This can be done respectfully and politely in conversation. If your colleague makes a serious assumption, judgement or statement based on any protected characteristics, you should follow your organisation’s policy on discrimination and take action. 

You can also prevent stereotypes. Being aware of them is a great initial step. After this and going forward, try to use more inclusive language in your meetings and work communications to include all staff. It’s worth noting that sometimes we can stereotype without realising, which is why it is important to be aware, educate yourself and raise awareness.  

Another way to prevent stereotypes is by creating a more inclusive, diverse environment. Working with a team of people with different abilities, ages, genders, health conditions and more can help you to gain knowledge and skills from new role models. 

A group of people's hands together in the centre of a circle.

We offer many courses to help you better manage stereotyping. Distance Learning courses enable you to gain skills, knowledge and techniques online from anywhere. These courses take 2-6 months to complete (study online once a week) and give you a level 2 qualification, great to add to your CV. Anyone – employed, or unemployed, can study these. Some courses which would educate you more on stereotypes include: 

Children and Young People  

Physical Health 

Mental Health  

  • Mental Health Awareness TQUK Level 1 is a lighter course designed to help you gain awareness of common mental health conditions and start to understand how to better support others. 
  • Awareness of Mental Health NCFE CACHE Level 2 helps you gain basic knowledge of common mental health conditions you or your team could be working with, including stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, OCD and more.  

For all courses or education in more specific areas, explore our course search.  

If you’re not employed, we offer a range of programmes to help you feel able to enter the workplace despite stereotyping you may have experienced before. 

  • We offer Pathways programmes to teach you ways to seek work, challenge stereotypes and find the best employment option for you. These courses are free and offered both online and face to face in Dorset.  
  • If you receive unemployment benefits and have struggled to enter the workforce, our Sector Based Work Academies (SWAPs) may help. These help learners gain pre-employment training, a work placement with an employer, and a guaranteed job interview. Speak to your JobCentre work coach to find out more. 

Find out more about employability support here

If you have been negatively impacted by stereotypes, or discriminated against, please speak to your manager.  

If you are a business or organisation looking to train your workforce to help battle stereotypes, find out more on our Business Support page or contact us.