Avoid Stereotyping When Hiring!

Hiring for cultural fit is a common phrase in many companies.  It needs to be applied carefully to avoid stereotyping people and making your employees all fit into the same cookie cutter mold.  A good fit should be thought of as pieces of a multi-colored puzzle.  Each piece is different but together they fit to make a picture.  When hiring look for a fit with the style of your company – will this person be able to communicate well within your company; will they be able to work within the normal parameters of your company; will they be able to grow with your company?  Look at the gap that their skills would fill and how they would enhance your business.  Don’t be afraid of diversity, it makes for a much more interesting and dynamic company.

Stereotypes help us make sense of our world, but they are never the full story and often lead us to incorrect conclusions.  The definition of a stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”[1].

[1] Google Dictionary

While stereotypes help us to make decisions in times of danger by quickly connecting our past experiences and knowledge to a current situation, they rarely prove true or helpful in the long run.  There are as many exceptions to the stereotype as there are truths. 

For example, imagine a person with a mask over their face and a gun as a stereotypical robber.  Now imagine yourself running to extract yourself from the situation and giving a description to the police about the robber. What description did you give?

How many of you gave the robber characteristics not mentioned in the description?  Is it a man or a woman?  What race is this person?  Are they old or young?  Too often we subconsciously place people in our personal bin of “bad guys” and develop a fuller description based on the oversimplified image we hold in our mind.  Stereotypes are one reason why our memories are often wrong and we are poor witnesses.

·      Stereotypes breed fear – When we harass or over react to others out of ungrounded fear such as in many published cases of harassment of young black men.

·      Stereotypes breed mistakes – When we don’t see reality our actions may not be correct.

·      Stereotypes breed divisions– When we judge others only by our over simplified view of the group we place them in we fail to connect fully and understand other points of view.

·      Stereotypes breed isolation/alienation – When we feel only comfortable dealing with those in “our group” and remove ourselves from fully interacting with the actual world around us.

Where do stereotypes come from?  They come from our family, our friends, our education, our chosen news channels, social media, the movies and TV shows we watch.  The games we play, our age, where we live and work, our travels, and our personal experiences all are factors.  Everything about our lives is reflected in our stereotypes.  Though we all have stereotypes the more limited our experiences with other groups, the stronger we rely on our stereotypes.  This is as true for the person in the big city working and socializing within a limited group as it is for the person in a rural town with little diversity

We need to consciously open ourselves to the diversity of the world around us, to recognize our stereotypes and move forward with and open mind.  Good pre-schools and schools where children are taught in an open and diverse environment work to set-up the next generation to operate beyond their parent's stereotypes.  But it is never too late to change our thought patterns and train ourselves in new ways of looking at the world.

So, stop using a cookie cutter to choose your employees and see beyond your subconscious stereotypes to find the piece to fill the gap in skills and experience to complete your puzzle.  It will take a conscious effort to find that candidate who will fit and enrich your company.  But in the end, you and your company will be better for this effort.


Carolyn Hughes, SPHR, SHRM-SCP