Stereotype Threat: Implications for Equity and Performance

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Stereotype threat refers to the worry that one could confirm (or be seen as confirming) a negative stereotype. Social identity threat refers to broader situational cues that sign that one's identity may be devalued in a setting.

When people enter settings in which a group they belong faces a negative stereotype, they tend to be vigilant for cues indicating that others may view them through the lens of a negative stereotype. More than 400 studies show that stereotype threat triggers a network of affective processes to undermine performance on challenging cognitive and social tasks. Trying to suppress this monitoring process and emotional response takes up working-memory resources and undermines executive functioning, ultimately weakening performance.

Millennials that are from an underrepresented group face challenges that those in the majority group simply don't fully understand. As such, individuals, teams, and organizations need to pay special attention to seemingly simple things to ensure we create equality:

  • Interpersonal cues in an environment (lewd jokes and nonverbal behavior) can conveys to millennials that they are not fully respected as work partners.

  • Millennials facing a stereotype are vigilant for potential instances of bias and may discount feedback when their group membership is known.

  • Although organizational mindsets do not explicitly reference social group differences, the exclusionary message of the fixed mindset (ex. forced distribution ratings), can trigger identity threat for Millennials who belong to a group impugned by negative stereotypes.