Stereotype threat describes the experience of a person whose behavior or performance is impacted by fears or anxieties about confirming a negative stereotype about their identity (i.e., their ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation).
Stereotype threat may cause an unhealthy pressure to over-perform and can also result in subsequent exhaustion or underperformance; for example, researchers have shown women perform more poorly on a math test than male counterparts if they are told beforehand that women have historically performed poorly on the test, or aren’t good at math. Ongoing performance pressure from stereotype threat can lead to long-term health consequences such as increased levels of stress and hypertension.
Like implicit bias, there is no easy fix to stereotype threat. However, we know that blatant or subtle situational cues, such as imbalanced representation in the workplace, can trigger stereotype threat by reinforcing culturally held stereotypes or by suggesting that a social identity is undervalued. While we work to improve equity in access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers and resolve these imbalances, having the language to talk about stereotype threat and an understanding of its potential impacts on employees is an important first step.
To learn more:
- Find the book Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us – in the Montgomery County Public Libraries
- Fighting Stereotype Threat in the Workplace – Columbia University Teachers College
- Pregnancy Stereotypes Can Lead to Workplace Accidents – Washington State University