Diversity and Inclusionby Gamiel Yafai
Assumptions, stereotypes and prejudice
We all carry assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices; they are part of our natural make up and relate to attitudes and the way we make sense of things. It is not unlawful to be prejudiced or to make assumptions or to carry stereotypes. It is impossible not to!
The danger of applying these stereotypes, however, is that we use the minimum amount of information to make a number of assumptions.
If we are told that someone is a grandfather with one leg, do we make assumptions about their age and about the extent of their mobility?
Having built up a picture, we then use our values to decide how we feel about the image we have just drawn up.
We carry prejudices and stereotypes about many different groups. The less familiar we are with a particular group, the easier it is to carry a stereotype based, for example, on media images and on our very limited experience of that group. We may have met one or two people from that group and then find ourselves generalising from that experience and using it to create a stereotype.
Not all stereotypes are negative. We may have developed certain stereotypes about which we feel positively. Although our stereotypes of some groups may be positive (or have positive aspects), the long-term effect of being stereotyped is usually damaging, because it can limit the opportunities available.
Black young people might be directed towards sports activities at the expense of their academic work or women might be directed towards certain types of factory work.
The important point about our assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices is that they are related to our values. They are not unlawful. We are allowed to think what we like about anyone. However, once we start taking action on our prejudices, we may be behaving in a discriminatory way and we might be breaking the law or working against our organisation’s policies.
Stereotypes and prejudices are not fixed. We can shift them slightly or change them completely – often because of new knowledge or experience of a particular group.
Values, diversity and inclusion
Valuing diversity and inclusion means valuing the qualities that different people bring to their jobs, to the resolution of problems and to the development of business opportunities, rather than judging people and ideas by the extent to which they conform to our existing values or personal preferences. It can also mean valuing differences between people and the ways in which those differences can contribute to a richer, more creative and more productive business environment – one which enhances our appeal to our many different customers.
Is ‘diversity’ the same as ‘equal opportunities’?
No: diversity is a concept which recognises the benefits to be gained from differences; equal opportunities has traditionally been a concept which has been based mainly on human resource issues and which categorises people into boxes, such as ethnic minority, disabled and so on. It is also the subject of a large body of legislation to ensure the human/employment rights of such groups. Diversity, on the other hand, is based on the concept that we need and benefit from our differences and can harness them to the benefit of the organisation.