When we stereotype, we draw conclusions about entire groups of people based on common assumptions. Though some businesses use stereotypes to shape their communications, they often are inaccurate and can lead to considerable communication and process breakdowns. The effects of stereotyping in business communication can be far-reaching, with impacts on both employees and the organization itself.
Many gender and racial stereotypes still persist in the modern workplace. As a result, organizations may tailor communication to female or minority internal audiences based on poorly informed stereotypes. These communication missteps can result in a lack of encouragement, education and awareness of opportunities, all of which can negatively affect career growth. Communication stereotypes also affect how the organization receives feedback from these audiences. In 2012, communication researchers Jessica Carlson and Mary Crawford found that employees perceived female speakers as more emotional and male speakers as more authoritative, even though both both genders delivered the same speeches.
Stereotypes also can affect the way communicators respond to their audience, according to 2014 research from the University of Portland. In face-to-face communication, for example, employees may feel uncomfortable communicating honestly with those who they perceive as aggressive or uncooperative based on stereotypes. Similarly, an employee may respond differently to someone with positive stereotypes than a colleague with negative stereotypes. These behaviors can cause a manager to perceive certain employees as less cooperative during private meetings, for example, and the manager then might feel uncomfortable assigning that employee more challenging work.
Gender and racial stereotypes not only are bad for business -- acting on these stereotypes can be illegal. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission views certain actions based on gender, race and several other characteristics as illegal discrimination.
Business leaders may draw conclusions about employees’ capabilities based on the departments where those employees work. Senior leaders may draw from stereotypes to assume that entry-level call center employees or line-level manufacturing employees are less educated or less interested in intricate details than others within the company, for example. As a result, communication to these audiences may lack vital details or in-depth information that the employees could use to better perform their jobs. Similarly, lower-level employees may stereotype senior leaders as disconnected and uninterested in mundane details. This assumption can cause a lack of upward communication about what's happening on the line,with a resulting negative effect on earnings.
Many businesses train employees on communication behaviors in key foreign and international markets. If based on stereotypes, though, this training can have damaging results. The communication consulting company Communicaid uses the example of organizations conducting business in Italy. Though Italian cultural norms allow for considerably looser timing than American protocols, not all Italians tolerate meetings that start late or vendors who do not show up on time. As a result, businesses that train employees to adhere to stereotypical practices risk offending clients.
Always know your audience, not its stereotypes. When conducting business in an unfamiliar country or region, disregard stereotypes and adhere to the scheduling and communication style that works best for your individual audience.