Preventing discrimination and prejudice

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Organizations often need to introduce practices that are intended to curb prejudices and prevent discrimination against specific ethnicities, older employees, female managers, and so forth. The need to embrace diversity has become increasingly important over the last decade.

Disciplinary action


Step 1 Often, supervisors exhibit anger and disdain when they confront employees about prejudicial remarks. They feel that such as display of contempt might highlight the immorality of prejudice. Instead, supervisors should remain calm, exhibiting understanding and composure, when they confront employees with utterances such as "I feel that comment could be regarded as prejudiced and inappropriate".

That is, when supervisors calmly highlight that prejudicial comments are inappropriate, employees do not feel defensive or anxious. As a consequence, these employees do not experience resentment towards their supervisors (see Czopp, Monteith, & Mark, 2006)--an emotion thattends to provoke a tendency to resist any messages they receive.

Workshops and development programs

Foster openness

Step 1 To encourage participants to challenge their assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices--as well as to promote a sense of connection and camaraderie--these individuals should be granted opportunities to experience a sense of awe. Enormous, ancient, complex, and exceptional objects or scenes have been shown to promote these feelings. These objects or scenes might be vast in size such as the skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex, in time, such as a very old relic, in number, such as a massive ant colony or huge database, in detail, such as a remarkable painting of human anatomy, or in ability, such as an amazing circus performance or remarkable triumph over hardship.

Individuals who experience a sense of awe, wonder, and rapture are more likely to feel connected to broader collectives, such as society in general, as well as more receptive to changing their perspectives and opinions. In particular, individuals experience this awe whenever they are exposed to scenes or objects that are vast in some sense. Because awe represents a sense of vastness, individuals feel diminished in comparison. They perceive themselves as part of a broader social entity. This perception promotes cooperation and camaraderie (Shiota, Keltner, & Mossman, 2007).

Furthermore, feelings of awe arise when individuals need to question their fundamental premises and assumptions about the world. These feelings, therefore, enhance flexibility, enabling individuals to embrace feelings of uncertainty and therefore to reach decisions carefully, seeking many opinions first (Shiota, Keltner, & Mossman, 2007).

Dissociation between prejudice and discrimination

Step 2 To redress prejudice, employees should participate in workshops that acknowledge that prejudices are rife but should, nevertheless, not impinge on behavior. That is, prejudicial thoughts should not translate to discriminatory behavior. In particular, they should be informed that:

  • Everyone judges other individuals using the principles and standards of their own social group. For example, lawyers might consider the extent to which someone is articulate and rational when they judge a person.

  • Other social groups do not always observe the same principles, and thus prejudices inevitably develop. That is, farmers might not use the same criterion to judge a person. They are, therefore, less likely to improve their oratory skills, and thus will tend to be evaluated unfavorably by lawyers.

  • Furthermore, prejudices enhance self esteem and confer a sense of solidarity, all of which are universal needs. That is, lawyers who judge farmers unfavorably will tend to feel superior in comparison.

  • Prejudice, therefore, is almost inevitable. Individuals should not strive to inhibit every prejudicial thought.

  • Nevertheless, individuals should be encouraged to specify their core values, ideals they would like to pursue. In particular, they should be encouraged to consider their values and priorities in each domain of their life, such as romantic relationships, family life, friendships, career progress, skill development, community work, leisure, spirituality, and health. For example, for romantic relationships, their main value might be honesty. For career progress, their main value or objective might revolve around influence.

  • They should then be encouraged to reflect upon these values, choosing behaviours that align with these priorities, despite occasional prejudicial thoughts (see also ACT therapy).

Instructors should demonstrate how discrimination often contradicts these values. In other words, employees should be encouraged to act fairly, even if they occasionally experience prejudicial thoughts or feelings. Their behaviour does not need to align with transient thoughts and feelings.

Interestingly, when individuals participate in these, become less inclined to demonstrate discrimination. Specifically, to redress prejudice and discrimination, organizations introduce a variety of initiatives, such as encourage distinct social groups to work towards a common goal or to offer education programs, intended to advance knowledge about specific minority groups and impart insight about stereotypes. Nevertheless, these initiatives are often ineffective (see Ho, Sanbonmatsu, & Aikimoto, 2002).

Instead, individuals should be encouraged to recognize their prejudices are inevitable, to accept rather than suppress these prejudices, but nevertheless observe their own automatic evaluations and tendencies as well as engage in acts that are consistent with their core values and not their current prejudices. In other words, they should learn to differentiate their prejudices, which are merely thoughts and feelings, from their behaviour. After this workshop, individuals become less inclined to attempt to suppress their prejudices. Suppressing prejudices sometimes amplifies these thoughts and feelings (see The ironic rebound effect), merely exacerbating discrimination (see Lillis & Hayes, 2007).

Alignment of activities to values and strengths

Step 3 Individuals should be asked to identify one or two activities they have undertaken that align to their values, such as an occasion in which they demonstrated remarkable honesty to their partner.

After individuals feel threatened, criticized, or rejected, they perceive other groups, different ethnicities or departments, as inferior. That is, after individuals feel a sense of threat, they experience immediate anxiety, and various memories of their achievements and strengths are automatically activated to offset this agitation. As a consequence, they begin to perceive other social categories as inferior in comparison. Fortunately, this tendency dissipates if individuals reflect upon their values (Rudman, Dohn, & Fairchild, 2007; see Self affirmation theory). These reflections focus their attention on the future, in which they feel a sense of distance from their immediate problems and experience a diminution in anxiety.

Step 4 Individuals should be asked to identify two of their most prominent strengths or qualities. For example, some employees might perceive themselves as artistic and friendly. Next, these individuals should be encouraged to identify opportunities in which they can apply these strengths and qualities somehow. To illustrate, artistic employees might decide to redesign some logo.

After employees are asked to identify a few, but not many, of their strengths, their confidence genuinely rises and their susceptibility to racism diminishes. Employees who feel a genuine sense of confidence and self esteem--and not merely proclaim they feel a sense of confidence to impress other individuals--are unlikely to discriminate unfairly against individuals from other racial or ethnic backgrounds (Jordan, Spencer, & Zanna, 2005; see also Optimal self esteem).

Step 5 During team meetings, members of a workgroup should be encouraged to identify two or three attributes they all share. Perhaps, all members are interested in conserving energy. Perhaps, all members enjoy engineering, and so on. In addition, workgroups should identify two or three of their strengths, qualities, or achievements. For example, perhaps the workgroup is diverse, boasting a range of complimentary skills. This information should be recorded in documents that members tend to read regularly.

If individuals feel similar to members of a robust team, they become less prejudiced (McGregor, Reeshma, & So-Jin, 2008). When individuals feel connected to a robust team, they experience a sense of clarity. That is, this connection confers a sense of certainty over how to act, which attitudes to espouse, and so forth. Furthermore, this connection to a robust team also elevates their self esteem. As a consequence, individuals do not feel the need to undermine other groups, a tendency that arises when they feel uncertain or unconfident (see Social identity and self-categorization).

Incidental communication

Rather than explicit workshops and programs, incidential comments and remarks can also reduce the incidence of prejudice.

Anecdotes that counter stereotypes

Step 1 Supervisors should record or collect anecdotes about individuals whose behavior counters stereotypes. Then, when applicable, these supervisors should convey these anecdotes. For example, to counter the stereotype that women are not assertive, supervisor could describe a female manager who assertively, but appropriately, confronted a board of directors. Even mental images of individuals who counter some stereotype tends to curb prejudice (Blair, Ma, & Lenton, 2001).

The anecdote should be as vivid as possible, alluding to the atmospehre, the pressure, the decor, the clothes, and other interesting details. However, the supervisor should not explicitly acknowledge the steroetype they are countering. They should not communicate insights such as "This story conflicts with the common perception of women". Conscious, deliberate attempts to redress stereotypes can often exacerbate prejudice (see Guinote, 2007; Hall & Crisp, 2003).

Physical surroundings and values

Step 2 Supervisors need to challenge the importance of materialism. For example, organizations should not purchase luxurious items to impress potential clients; managers should not emphasize the prestigious brands they purchase, and so forth. Furthermore, they should not attempt to standardize the fittings of offices but instead embrace originality.

Individuals are more inclined to be racist if they are materialistic (Roets, Van Hiel, & Cornelis, 2006). That is, some employees admire individuals who own expensive houses, cars, and other possessions, and feel they would be appreciably happier if they could afford luxury items. When individuals are materialistic, they feel the need to impress their social or work group. They derive most of their pride from belonging to a cohesive and respected social group. This need ultimately fosters disrespect towards other ethnicities, communities, and so forth.

Visionary speeches

Step 3 Every few months, managers and supervisors should seek the opinion of employees on creative opportunities to improve the workplace. Afterwards, they should present an inspiring vision of the future. Specifically:

  • This vision should first describe the remarkable capabilities that were developed and the passion that was demonstrated by employees over the last few months.
  • Next, this vision should then highlight how these capabilities and passions could be utilized to reach some inspiring objectives in the future, perhaps a few years from now.
  • Third, this objective should be depicted is unique, diverging from the activities of other organizations or departments.
  • Fourth, this vision should refer to some of the ideas and suggestions of employees.
  • Finally, all the employees should be granted the opportunity to assume a unique role that relates to this pursuit.

This style of leadership is sometimes referred to as transformational. This leadership style is especially suitable when the team is diverse. This style unifies individuals, encouraging diverse members to pursue the same vision (Kearney & Diether, 2009). A unique vision and role also ensures that individuals feel especially committed to this pursuit (Hornsey & Jetten, 2004; see Optimal distinctiveness theory).

Related objectives

See also articles on:


Blair, I. V., Ma, J., & Lenton, A. P. (2001). Imagining stereotypes away: The moderation of implicit stereotypes through mental imagery. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 828-841.

Czopp, A. M., Monteith, M. J., & Mark, A. Y. (2006). Standing up for a change: Reducing bias through interpersonal confrontation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 784-803.

Hall, N. R., & Crisp, R. J. (2003). Anxiety-induced response perseverance and stereotyping change. Current Research in Social Psychology, 8, 242-253

Guinote, A. (2007). Power and the suppression of unwanted thoughts: Does control over others decrease control over the self? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 433-440.

Ho, E. A., Sanbonmatsu, D. M., & Aikimoto, S. A. (2002). The effects of comparative status on social stereotypes: How the perceived success of some persons affects the stereotypes of others. Social Cognition, 20, 36-57.

Hornsey, M. J., & Jetten, J. (2004). The individual within the group: Balancing the need to belong with the need to be different. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 248-264.

Jordan, C. H., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2005). Types of high self-esteem and prejudice: How implicit self-esteem relates to ethnic discrimination among high explicit self-esteem individuals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 693-702.

Kearney, E., & Diether, G. (2009). Managing diversity and enhancing team outcomes: The promise of transformational leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 77

Created by Dr Simon Moss on 17/10/2008

Related objectives:
- Attracting popularity and developing rapport - Deciphering the needs and motives of another person - Promoting teamwork - Fostering altruism and cooperation - Preventing discrimination and prejudice - Improving romantic relationships -

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