The exploration of stereotypes within selected South African organisations
After the first democratic election that took place in South Africa in 1994, numerous changes occurred within the labour force. The labour force has become increasingly diverse with individuals from different races, genders and ages now fulfilling various positions within organisations. Consequently, organisations have become more focused on managing this diverse workforce and eliminating stereotypes, and consequently discrimination that accompanies this diversity. Stereotypes that are formed within organisations can be based on various criteria and, if not addressed, can lead to various negative consequences for both the individual and the organisation. It therefore seems that stereotypes are an important topic to research, specifically within the unique South African context. The objective of this study was to explore the prevalent stereotypes and the experiences thereof among individuals working in selected South African organisations. Within the social constructivism paradigm using an emic perspective, qualitative research from both a phenomenological and hermeneutic approach was employed to achieve the objectives of this study. Both purposive and convenience sampling was used for the purpose of this study after utilising a multiple case study strategy. Employees of selected South African organisations (N = 336) were involved in this research study. These organisations formed part of the following employment sectors: banking, higher education institutions, mining, municipalities, nursing, police services, primary and secondary schools, and restaurant industry. Data was collected by making use of semi-structured interviews, and data analysis was achieved by means of thematic analysis. The results of this study indicated that individuals working in selected South African organisations are familiar with the meaning of stereotypes and that they are consciously aware of the origin of stereotypes. Results indicated that although not all of the participants have had direct experiences with stereotyped groups, they are well aware that stereotypes are also caused by indirect sources. The results of this study also illustrate that various stereotypes exist within selected South African organisations. It was explored on an out-group and in-group level. It was found that not only do employees stereotype others (out-group), they are also well aware of being stereotyped themselves (in-group). The most prevalent stereotypes were based on race, gender, age, occupation, and other work-related dimensions. Stereotypes based on race, gender and age were based on the internal dimensions of diversity. Stereotypes were also based on the external and organisational dimensions of diversity and included occupation, physical appearance, position, qualification, and duration in organisation. Interesting to note is that with in-group occupational stereotyping, most employees felt they are also stereotyped on their internal dimensional characteristics (race, gender and age). Stereotyped occupations include: academics, administration staff, educators, engineers, finance, human resources, librarians, mining, nursing, police and restaurant waitrons. The findings of this study also showed that when individuals experience in-group stereotypes, they react to these stereotypes on a cognitive, behavioural or emotional level. Results indicated that participants mostly reacted to stereotypes in a cognitive manner and most of these experiences were negative in nature. Recommendations with regard to future research and practice were made. Managers within organisations should eliminate stereotypes from organisational practices and decision-making by not focusing on irrelevant personal differences, but rather on performance-related information. Employees should be trained and educated by the organisation regarding stereotypes and the effects thereof. Employees should also be provided with an opportunity to interact with diverse people within the organisation.
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