Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Management Paper: Reducing Stereotype Threat

(This post consists of my excerpts from a team paper on perception and attribution.)

Introduction

This paper is about “Stereotype Threat at Work” by Loriann Roberson and Carol T. Kulik in Chapter 10: Perception and Attribution in the 9th edition of The Organizational Behavior Reader. This article will be summarized, analyzed, and discussed with regards to understanding management and organizational behavior. First, the major points of the article will be summarized. Second, the content will be analyzed and critiqued in regards to its completeness in tackling the issue and how well it supports its arguments. Third, the application of the article with regards to modern science, technology, and engineering management will be discussed. Through the complete analysis of this article, this paper will provide a cohesive look at the ideas provided in the article and create a broader view of major issues in perception and attribution.

Summary

Stereotype Threat at Work

Kray, Thompson, & Galinsky (Roberson and Kulik in Osland and Turner 2011, 272) have an excellent definition of stereotype threat: “Stereotype threat describes the psychological experience of a person who, while engaged in a task, is aware of a stereotype about his or her identity group suggesting that he or she will not perform well on that task. . . . This awareness can have a disruptive effect on performance—ironically resulting in the individual confirming the very stereotype he or she wanted to disconfirm.” When stereotype threat is present, employees feel more motivated to prove themselves; however, this motivation does not provide better quality work. Since many stereotypes exist, most people are susceptible to stereotype threat. Here is a list of stereotypes from the article that can affect an individual’s performance regardless of actual ability (Roberson and Kulik in Osland and Turner 2011, 274-275):

  • Blacks lack intellectual ability.
  • Latinos lack intellectual ability.
  • Low SES students lack intellectual ability.
  • Women have weak math ability.
  • Older people have bad memory.
  • Gay men are dangerous to young children.
  • Persons with a head injury history experience a loss of cognitive performance.
  • Whites are racist.
  • White students have less mathematical ability than Asian students.
  • Men are less capable than women in dealing with affective (emotional) information.
  • White men have less athletic prowess than Black men.

Token individuals (people who are the only one of their kind) are quite aware of situations in which stereotypes exist. The problem is that these individuals care so much about performance that they may either try too hard or make overly cautious attempts at work.

What are the conditions necessary for stereotype threat to exist? Any time an employee believes a trait linked to stereotypes about groups is necessary for quality performance is an instance where stereotype threat may exist. First, stereotype threat occurs when the task is challenging. Worrying about the views of others decreases performance. Second, stereotype threat is likely to occur when an individual identifies as someone who should have expertise in the given task. Lastly, stereotype threat is likely to occur in contexts where employees perceive stereotypes to be operating.

Stereotype threat can disrupt performance but Roberson and Kulik have some recommendations for reducing the effects of stereotype threat. How can managers and interrupt the stereotype threat process? Managers can provide a successful task strategy by explicitly telling employees what behaviors they need to use to succeed. Managers can remind employees of the importance of skills without stereotype relevance. Managers can explain that stereotype threat may make employees feel anxious about the given task, but the stereotype is not related to the individual’s ability to do well. If at all possible, managers could arrange work to remove people from token situations. Reducing stereotype threat contrasts from diversity management. In an effort to reduce stereotype threat, stereotypes are addressed directly and the onus is shifted from the manager’s potential prejudice to the effect of the environment itself.

Analysis

Critique of Stereotype Threat at Work

Roberson and Kulik effectively summarize research findings on stereotype threat. They provide a useful working definition of stereotype threat, compile examples, outline steps in the stereotype threat process, and provide strategies for interrupting the stereotype threat process. Very little of the article is devoted to the concrete benefits of applying stereotype threat reduction techniques to diversity management.

The concept of stereotype threat may seem obvious in hindsight, particularly to those aware of intersectionality among multiple groups; however, some managers and organizations might not realize how important the issue is. Those familiar with the concept of the Yerkes-Dodson law could easily see why the idea of stereotype threat could be a factor affecting performance. People suffering from stereotype threat care about the outcome of the task to the point of reducing performance. Over a dozen years of research shows that stereotype threat is common in the workplace and there are things managers can do to minimize its effects.

People of privilege may not be aware of how much a problem stereotype threat really is. Roberson and Kulik do mention that men, whites, and white men sometimes suffer from stereotype threat, but they fail to emphasize how much of an issue stereotypes are for the rest of the stereotyped individuals. Being seen as racist, having poor athletic prowess, and having difficulty with emotions do not come with the same stakes as being seen as posing a threat or lacking intellectual ability. Furthermore, the stereotypes applied to some groups may be in areas that aren’t as valued as the stereotypes applied to other groups. Lastly, people that are not marginalized are unlikely to be placed in token situations. However, these concepts may apply to more people as companies move towards globalization. For future work, I think it would be beneficial to do research on the cost of stereotype threat in domestic and international contexts.

Discussion

Application of Stereotype Threat at Work

Stereotype threat in modern science, technology, and engineering management is very likely going to need to be addressed. As women, minorities, and other diverse individuals start to become token individuals in science and engineering companies, it is important to understand stereotype threat to reduce deviant behavior and turnover. Once companies start to have a reputation as a good place to work for diverse individuals, companies can attract more and more diverse talent.

Overcoming stereotype threat at work is important so managers can empower all employees to succeed. Some of the suggested strategies would be beneficial for training individuals from stereotyped groups and non-stereotyped groups. Successful task strategies could benefit new employees acquiring new skills. Reminding employees of why they were hired as a good fit for the team may be good for motivation. Witnessing others being appreciated for who they are may be good for the whole team’s morale.

Interrupting the stereotype threat process can have a significant impact on productivity in multiple settings. Some potential benefits have been discussed and more research can be done on how reducing stereotype threat can reduce potential costs. If managers fail to effectively utilize a diverse workforce, much potential value could be lost to companies with effective diversity management programs. In competitive global markets, all resources, including human resources, must be effectively managed to stay in business.

Conclusion

Judging people based on what they look like or other identifying characteristics unrelated to ability is a dangerous and costly mistake. To do so would be to attribute false meaning where meaning does not exist. Some people who behave in stereotyped ways do not represent the whole group. The problem with stereotypes is that people who act in a way that confirm the stereotype are remembered and people who disconfirm the stereotype are considered exceptions. Performing poorly due to anxiety from fear of confirming stereotypes continues to provide people with inaccurate information. Fortunately, Roberson and Kulik suggest strategies for reducing stereotype threat.

Management Paper: Video Response

Leadership and the New Science discussed four key areas. First, Dr. Wheatley entreated us to get comfortable with chaos. Second, she stated, “Information informs us and forms us.” Third, she stressed the importance of relationships. Finally, Dr. Wheatley discussed vision—an invisible field. While watching the video and discussing it in class, I tried to make connections to what we’ve been learning. I saw many connections to several different topics we’ve discussed in class; what’s more, I saw many clear connections to articles that dealt with managing conflict effectively.

As the video discussed chaos, I saw a distinct analogy to conflict. Functional outcomes can emerge from conflict. Rather than traditional views of conflict suggesting dysfunctional outcomes, with the new science and more recent theories on conflict, better solutions can emerge from chaos/conflict. Not all interactions must be zero-sum; many situations can be negotiated as win-win. As managers and organizations come to accept chaos/conflict, individuals and organizations can use more organic and creative problem-solving processes.

Once people are comfortable with chaos, they must ground their beliefs and actions on information that is in touch with reality. Companies that are data-driven outperform companies that don’t rely so heavily on facts. Additionally, information must be shared across functions and departments for better results. Some management experts call this concept avoiding silo mentality. If an individual with a hammer sees all problems as nails, he or she is going to miss many alternate options. Getting as much information as possible and relating that information to experience can help managers and organizations make better decisions.

In an effort to share information and increase efficiency, leaders are advised to develop a diversity of relationships. Dr. Wheatley states, “Relationships are all there is.” In order to do business and work as a cohesive team, relationships are fundamental. Without relationships, there is no team. Getting along with coworkers not only leads to increased productivity, but also it can lead to increased job satisfaction and better stress management.

Vision was a topic that was a little unclear to me. The video had the aurora borealis analogy, but I don’t think they went into enough detail about it. If we’re talking of vision in terms of an underlying goal and culture that influences behavior, I can see how it can be called an invisible field. Some parts of nature are invisible to the naked eye but they are still necessary for models on how the world works. I believe a big part of leadership is effectively communicating a vision and empowering others to work towards common goals.

In this paper, I wrote about chaos, information, relationships, and vision and how these four topics relate to conflict and other ideas discussed in class. Coming from a technical background, these ideas make a lot of sense. Fundamental science concepts apply to management. Understanding and applying this information can help us become better leaders. The challenge will be in taking these ideas and translating them from how we do science to how we lead and manage.

 

Management Paper: Task vs People Reaction

Leadership Matrix

Leadership Matrix (Photo credit: Don Clark)

I was surprised with my results on this questionnaire. During class, when concern for task versus concern for people was described, I thought I would be considered much more task-oriented than people-oriented (perhaps 7.3). I think the source of the discrepancies between my self-assessment and the results of this questionnaire lie with the number of times I answered occasionally.

My score was only 2 on concern for task and 5 on concern for people. I was not surprised that I would frequently want to keep work moving at a rapid pace and push for increased production. Many of the items that show concern for people seem like they would increase productivity. Permitting members to use their own judgment helps keep people engaged in the task at hand. Giving people the freedom to do their work helps avoid resentment and, if team members are committed to the task, would ensure the work gets done. I think communicating why certain decisions must be made helps people understand why certain tasks must be done so that they will complete what needs to get done.

I had 6 items that I marked as occasionally. Many decisions that are good for production are good for people too. These are often situation-dependent decisions. I would only needle members for greater effort if necessary, always needling might de-motivate team members and never needling might not serve team members that occasionally need a push. Assigning group members to particular tasks might be necessary occasionally; on the other hand, letting team members self-select tasks may occasionally lead to greater job satisfaction. Of course, I would be willing to make changes, but only when necessary. As with assigning tasks, self-selecting a pace may occasionally be best for productivity.

Since I was surprised with my results, I wonder about the validity of the test. Why would my self-assessment be so different from the results of this questionnaire? Was I not thinking about enough specific situations. Perhaps my attitudes, intentions, and actions are not in alignment. If so, I wonder why. I also wonder how effective each manager type can be. I suspect in most cases, as with other aspects of management and organizational behavior, effectiveness is dependent on the situation.

Resources:
Clark, D. R. (2010). Leadership Matrix Survey. Retrieved Dec 11, 2012 from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/matrix.html

Management Paper: Myers-Briggs Observations

fancy logo/writing for use in MBTI articles

fancy logo/writing for use in MBTI articles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago, the first time I took the MBTI, my results were INTJ. This time, my results were ISTJ. I can see how my personality matches up with both results. The MBTI can help me understand myself, others, and how people might interact in teams. This understanding has practical applications for organizational behavior. Knowledge of personalities can help reduce conflicts and facilitate conflict resolution when conflicts do occur.

I am definitely introverted. Crowds tire me and I prefer one-on-one communication. I prefer to think and reflect before I act and I like to keep my thoughts to myself until they’re more fully developed. I tend to listen and get along in groups with extroverts because extroverts like to be speaking about 30-50% of the time. I am quite content taking in my surroundings without making small talk.

Depending on the situation, I can be either intuitive or sensing. I noticed an increase in sensing in my method of perceiving/understanding when I started meditating more regularly. This change makes sense because the focus of mediation is experience in the here and now and the sensing method of perceiving/understanding focuses on the present and reality. I balance common sense with imagination, often coming up with many ideas and narrowing them down to the most practical. I have a good memory for license plates and dates that have meaning but not historical dates that I only have a limited understanding of. I don’t like guessing when the facts are unclear.

I tend to be a thinking person. I like to find facts to inform my intuition. I’m comfortable breaking projects down into tasks and agreeing on who does what by when. Though I like reaching consensus, I like objectively evaluating the facts. When conflict isn’t present, I tend to worry group members may be acting overly polite and not getting to the core of important issues.

My “action orientation” tends to be judging. I think I’m in the mode of perceiving until it’s time to judge. I don’t like “wishy-washy” behavior. Once a group has reached a decision, I like to stick to the decision. If information changes, I like to keep groups informed of changes in case we need to rethink a decision. However, I prefer to stick to decisions until further notice.

I have worked with a variety of personality types. Sometimes I can get along well with people who are opposite (ESFP) and dissimilar but I’ve come to realize that I can’t get along with everyone all the time. In my Psychology textbook, I read that birds of a feather really do flock together. I noticed that I spend more time with introverts. Now that I think of it, I do find it easier to make plans with other judging people and I’ve been trying to be more understanding of cultural differences when it comes to punctuality.

LavaCon 2012

Welcome to Oregon Sign (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oregon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The LavaCon Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies 2012, Portland

I will be writing up my notes and impressions in the upcoming few weeks (edit: soon–I forgot how much time full-time school and part-time work takes). Some of the speakers from the pre-event talks were very good and knowledgeable. I went to Adobe Tech Comm Thought Leadership and Networking Event on Saturday and to eBook Boot Camp presented by Tom McClusky. The actual conference itself included five different tracks: Project Metrics and Development Team Management; Content Strategy and Roundtable Discussions; User Experience and Multichannel Publishing; eBooks, New Media and Mobile Devices.

On Sunday, I went to How to Deliver the Wrong Information to the Wrong Person at the Wrong Time presented by Michael Boses and Don Day,  Gaining Value from Global Content Using a CMS, The Three Pillars of a Good Content Strategy, and the Lightning talks. On Monday, I went to And The Survey Says…How Documentation Quality Affects Brand Perception and Loyalty presented by Sharon Burton, Include it All. Filter it Afterward. presented by Mark Baker, Ending the Cold War Between MarComm and TechComm presented by Sarah O’Keefe, and Influencing Without Authority: Applying the Art of Motivation presented by Andrea Ames. On Tuesday, I went to Planning and Managing Translation Projects presented by Angelos Tzelepis, Monitoring Social Media for Documentation Customer Feedback presented by Rhyne Armstrong, and How to Produce Amazing Webinars presented by Sharon Burton.

My overall impression was: food was great, the speakers were great, and the ideas that were discussed are important. Traveling is fun (though expensive) and I managed to only bring a carry-on and personal bag on the plane. The conference took place in early October, and I’ve been busy catching up on my schoolwork, but the trip was well worth it. I learned a lot and met a lot of interesting people. Also, I can now add Oregon to my list of states visited!

What do vegetarians eat?

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables (Photo credit: nutrilover)

… Food. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 15 years and I’m so used to eating vegetarian food that I’ve had trouble coming up with a good answer on the spot. I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian (I don’t eat meat but I do consume dairy and eggs) so other vegetarians may have either a stricter or less strict list of things they eat. I eat grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, milk, eggs, cheese…

A meal with meat taken out isn’t usually a complete meal anymore, but there are several alternatives. I’ll try most things, but just because it doesn’t contain meat doesn’t mean I’ll like it, and I hate olives. (Olives are not food to me.) So here’s a series of lists of some of my favorite things to eat.

Breakfast

  • two eggs with pepper, hash browns with ketchup, wheat toast with jelly
  • banana or other piece of fruit if I’m in a hurry
  • oat & honey, peanut butter, or dark chocolate & cherry granola bar
  • toasted English muffin with butter and jam
  • oatmeal with fruit & nut trail mix mixed in
  • pancakes topped with fruit
  • waffles topped with honey

Snack

  • apple with peanut butter
  • chips and guacamole
  • crackers and cheese
  • chocolate and pretzels
  • hummus with pita bread
  • baby carrots with Italian dressing
  • peanut butter & chocolate or blueberry smoothie

Lunch

  • penne pasta with creamy pesto, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes
  • avocado salad
  • pesto tortellini
  • cheese ravioli
  • generic spaghetti rings
  • peanut butter & jelly sandwich
  • sandwich made with homemade bread, avocado, cucumber, cheddar, raspberry chipotle sauce, and mayo

Dinner

  • pineapple & green chile pizza
  • pesto pizza topped with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts
  • caprese panini
  • macaroni and cheese with mexicorn mixed in
  • veggie tacos (soy protein or wheat gluten, etc. in place of ground beef)
  • cucumber sushi, avocado sushi, and green chile sushi (sushi refers to the rice, not raw fish)
  • cheese enchiladas with an egg on top and whole beans on the side (refried beans are sometimes cooked with lard)

Dessert

  • warm chocolate pudding with raspberries
  • peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips
  • chocolate cake with rainbow chip frosting
  • Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
  • apple crumble
  • apple turnover (make sure pastry is not made with lard)
  • apple pie (make sure pastry is not made with lard)

As for drinks, I like water, herbal tea, lemonade, and watered down fruit juices (except for orange juice, which I love to drink fresh-squeezed with lots of pulp) so they last longer and have less sugar per glass. I don’t like the taste of coffee but I do like coffee ice cream and I avoid caffeine after noon. My favorite sodas are lemon/lime and root beer.

People become vegetarians for a variety of reasons. Some choose it for health reasons. Some people just don’t like the taste of meat. Some people become vegetarians because their partner is a vegetarian and it makes meal planning easier. Some people are vegetarians because meat is too expensive. I’m a vegetarian because I’d rather not take the life of an animal unnecessarily.