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Annie Ward


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Trainers Diary: Prejudice, Stereotypes and Discrimination


Byron Kalies
Byron Kalies ponders whether trainers should attempt to change cultural prejudices.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve got to the stage where I hardly hear myself saying some words. This is not the onset of senile dementia, I hope, but the fact that I’ve said them so often that sometimes I need to check that I’ve actually vocalised them, not just thought I’d said them. I’m sure you understand. These are the particular sentences from equal opportunities or diversity courses. The mantra goes something like this:

“We all have prejudices – it’s natural – we’re born with them or develop them as we grow. These prejudices lead to stereotypes. These stereotypes are short hand ways of categorising people. It may happen that the stereotypes come first and form the prejudices.

I don’t get paid enough to change peoples’ prejudices or stereotypes. What I am paid to do is to deal with the progression of these attitudes – discrimination. This is when people act on their prejudices or stereotypes. Discrimination translates as unlawful or unwanted behaviour…”

As I say I often forget quite how powerful some of these messages can be and recently I’ve noticed that the attitudes of attendees on these courses seem to have changed considerably. Perhaps it’s me – perhaps I’m noticing more or just getting more stubborn in my views and values, or perhaps people are changing. Or perhaps people are always like this and are just more confident and more vocal. I’m not sure what particular factor or combination of factors applies.

On training events recently the discussions invariably turn to immigration and equally invariably I find that many people have different views than me. This isn’t really a problem – we’re all used to this and have dealt with this at all levels.

What I’ve picked up recently though is that the number of people with different views has grown remarkably. Now I wouldn’t want to overplay this and pretend that it’s every session and every person, however, it has significantly increased.

Anyway – the question is, and there is a question, do we try to change prejudices? I feel that we should. But then again I guess Stalin, Hitler and many others felt the same thing. I guess it’s just a rhetorical question as there is no way we should go down this road. Logically I know we can’t do this it still grates though.

2 Responses

  1. Umm…
    Lots of food for thought here and eloquently put.

    I don’t know Bryron what it is that you train, is it diversity or equal ops?

    Because if it is I understand that you feel paid to deal with discrimination in the work place.

    I don’t train in these areas and I don’t feel it’s my job to change peoples beliefs and attitudes. However I do feel that if comments are made that are inappropriate within a session it is my job to explain that they are inappropriate and that I will not tolerate them, and should any further repetition occur I will have to ask the individual to leave and I will report back to their manager as to why I asked them to leave.

    Strangely I currently work in the Middle East, I’m fortunate enough to have colleagues from over 110 nationalities, of every creed, colour, belief etc. And yet… I have yet to run accross one ounce of prejudice and discrimination, I’m not saying it’s not there, but I am saying it is never displayed in the work place.

    It may be that because the vast majority of my colleagues hold stong religious beliefs that decency comes naturally to them, but as religion in this area of the world is often depicted as the epitome of intolerance that kind of calls into question one of my stereotypes, no-one else’s.

    Personally I feel that a lot of the “differing beliefs” that you talk about in the UK come from an almost silent apartheid where people of a feather flock together and are encouraged to do so in the name of multiculturalism, if we were truly multicultural then surely we would have no fear of mixing with each other?

    From my point of view if an organisation really wants to combat discrimination it needs a variety of individuals from all walks of life and then it needs to encourage them to do the simple things in life together, like take smoke breaks, or eat lunch, or talk about their cultures. And I don’t think you can facilitate that in the classroom.

    And I think that by refusing to allow a voice to those who feel differently to us, we positively encourage their beliefs to foster behind closed doors and for them to grow their support because they are being repressed… by us and our values.

    In the end I think it’s more than a job for training a business needs to address these issues by embodying diversity in it’s values, it’s culture, it’s actions and it’s management team – until then it’s all just hot air.

  2. Changing attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes
    Byron asks a great question! My suggestion would be that the answer depends on what you have been asked to do.

    Defining or confirming acceptable behaviour in a workshop is one thing; changing fundamental attitudes is quite another.

    Reframing ‘prejudices’ and the like is very deep work as these are most often, in the jargon, generated and reinforced by ‘affective’ attitudes – as opposed to cognitive or conative attitudes – and so may not be subject to rational analysis, discussion or debate.

    A helpful guide here may be the proposition: ‘you cannot argue with an emotion’. (Can you imagine this exchange between two imaginary people, to make the point?
    “Don’t be sad / jealous / angry / envious!”
    “OK, I’ll stop right now. How silly of me.”
    Not very likely?!)

    To change an *affective* attitude in any meaningful way, such as a prejudice, you first need to establish what produced it (without making any assumptions) and then deal with these causes – both individually and organisationally.

    This is not a task to be undertaken lightly as it takes a lot of time, and then absolutely consistent reinforcement thereafter. Certainly not a job for a ‘training workshop’ I’d suggest!

    I hope this may be helpful? More off-line if you wish!

    Kind regards


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Annie Ward

Editor, HR Zone

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