Mentoring and Diversity: An International Perspective

Chapter 5: What every diversity mentor should know about stereotyping

Overview

David Clutterbuck

Stereotypes: oversimplified, rigid, and generalised beliefs about groups of people, in which all individuals from the same group are regarded as having the same set of leading characteristics. (Harre and Lamb, 1986)

The issue of stereotyping occurs and recurs throughout any discussion on diversity. The reality of human existence is that, to make sense of the world around us, we need to classify objects, people and any other phenomena our senses detect. In making such classifications for example, that trees are tall green things with lots of leaves and branches, but one trunk we inevitably simplify reality. Some trees are not green; green trees in temperate climates are sometimes green, at other times brown, or red or bare; horticulturalists have successfully bred dwarf trees (and Japanese bonsai art produces trees even smaller); and there are varieties of tree that have multiple shoots from the ground. Yet we usually have no difficulty in recognizing a tree when we see one.

This capacity to categorize develops quite early in childhood and is what enables us to cope with the complexity of the world around us. The generalized assumptions we make about a category usually operate at an unconscious level, so unless we meet with something or someone who does not quite fit with those assumptions, they tend to be unquestioned especially if they are reinforced by continuing stimuli that fit the assumptions. So it takes a question such as, is asparagus a tree or a vegetable? ...

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