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Stereotypes definition: what are stereotypes?

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Stereotypes definition

The term stereotype in the context of social psychology has been defined by a journalist Walter Lippman in 1922. In “Public Opinion”, Lippman refers to stereotype as a “distorted picture or image in a person’s mind, not based on personal experience, but derived culturally”. 

According to Lippmann, stereotypes originate from social, political, and economic factors and can become very ingrained and hard to change as they are passed down from generation to generation. In the past, stereotypes have been used by governmental actors to further what Lippmann refers to as "the manufacture of consent," a social process. 

For example, stereotypes can be used to redraw moral landscapes and draw new lines dividing protagonists (the “in-group”) from antagonists (the “out-group” or “enemy”) during times of war or economic distress.

In more simple terms, stereotype is a commonly accepted, yet rigid and simplistic, perception of a specific kind of person or object. A typical example of gender-based stereotype would be that women are more docile and emotional, while men are not as attentive and more aggressive. 

Real-world context

  • Hiring process: Stereotypes affect and further reinforce recruitment bias. Some candidates may be recruited based off stereotyping suggesting they would be good in a role and vice versa, ignoring the real hard and soft skills. For instance, a hiring manager may assume that an East Asian candidate would be best for a role of statistician based off a stereotype that East Asian people are good at mathematics.
  • Talent development: Stereotypes can play a role in encouraging discrimination within the workplace when it comes to progression and career development. For no other reason than their age, younger workers may be viewed as less capable, dependable, or diligent. They might therefore be passed over for promotions, more responsibility, and training chances.
  • Lack of organisational cohesion: Different departments and professions within an organisation may also be a subject to stereotyping, which in turn may lead to lack of collaboration and cohesion across the company.

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