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ATD Blog

Breaking Down Barriers and Stereotypes

Thursday, February 17, 2022

“We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”—Jimmy Carter

Reducing and disintegrating implicit stereotypes and breaking down barriers to diversity starts with the self and must be developed before you can embrace diversity and inclusiveness in all its forms.

Let’s discuss the three main milestones for breaking down stereotypes and encouraging an all-inclusive society:

Step 1: Change Your Approach

When trying to change your approach toward an individual, understand that we are each responsible for our stereotypes and barriers. Acknowledge that you’re human, make mistakes, and hold stereotypes. Work to become more aware of your inner thoughts and feelings and how they affect your beliefs and actions. We typically make a judgment about someone in fewer than 30 seconds. To change your personal approach to diversity, try these steps when you meet a new person:

  • Collect information.
  • Divide out the facts from your opinions, theories, and suppositions.
  • Make judgement based only on the facts.
  • Periodically refine that judgment.
  • Expand your opinion of the person’s potential.

When you change your approach toward a group that is different from you, follow any stereotypical thought with an alternative thought based on facts that discount the stereotype. Retrain your brain on what is and is not acceptable. Other steps you can take toward a new mindset:

  • Openly confront a discriminatory comment, joke, or action.
  • Risk a positive stand against discrimination.
  • Be aware of discriminatory TV programs, advertising, news broadcasts, holiday observations, slogans, and other places stereotypes perpetuate in daily culture.
  • Investigate and evaluate political candidates’ stances and activities against discrimination.
  • Contribute time or money to an agency, fund, or program that actively confronts these issues.
  • Sever your affiliation with organizations that have discriminatory membership requirements.
  • Learn the languages of those in your community.


Step 2: Encourage Workplace Change

Diversity initiatives usually start at the top of an organization, but change can be effected from any level. If you work in human resources or in a functional position of authority, consider performing a cultural audit to describe the overall working environment, unwritten norms, possible barriers, and existence of race, gender, and class issues. Here are some steps you can take toward creating a more inclusive workplace:

  • Identify biases and stereotypes in your organization.
  • Note any hostility among co-workers. Does it have distinguishing background characteristics?
  • Suggest or take steps to implement discussions or workshops aimed at understanding and eliminating discrimination.
  • Leave copies of publications that educate about diversity to encourage discussion.

Step 3: Instigate Social Change

Don’t limit yourself to the workplace. Encourage the breakdown of stereotypical barriers in social, community, and other non-work settings. Here are some other areas to consider:

  • Investigate the treatment of discrimination in curricula, textbooks, assemblies, faculty, staff, administration, athletic programs, and directors of local schools.
  • Evaluate your buying habits to avoid supporting shops, companies, or personnel that follow discriminatory practices.

As you gain more awareness and knowledge about groups different from you, not only will your own stereotypes diminish, but you will also become better equipped to educate and challenge others about their stereotypes.

About the Author

Cherry A. Collier, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist, strategist, executive coach, and diversity, inclusion, and belonging consultant for Personality Matters, Inc. Her science-based approach and brain-based techniques, propel people, teams, and organizations to build bridges and work from the inside out to achieve their goals.

Dr. Cherry specializes in emotional intelligence, neuroscience, leadership development, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion. She received her Doctorate and Master of Science in Applied Social/Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia and Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College.

She is the author of more than 25 human behavior related books for leaders, executives, and coaches. Dr. Cherry is often called the DEI Whisperer because she has a unique ability to fiercely “hold the space” and be totally present, which creates a psychologically safe environment that allows others all the space they need to fully express themselves. She listens to others with head, heart and hands approach so that they are heard, seen and understood.

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