Stereotypes and Prejudice

Recall, negative stereotypes of Blacks and prejudice toward them principally were seen as arising from the environments in which organizations are embedded rather than from the organizations themselves. Also recall that a distinction was made between negative stereotypes (cognitions) and prejudice (an attitude; e.g., Mackie & Smith, 1998). Here, because of the voluminous literature pertaining to each of these constructs and the limited space available to us, the discussion that follows necessarily will be somewhat superficial. For much more general and thorough treatments of stereotypes and prejudice, see, for example, Brief (1998), Brewer and Brown (1998), and Fiske (1998).

A stereotype is a set of beliefs about the personal attributes of a group of people (e.g., Hilton & von Hippel, 1996). This set of beliefs is not necessarily negative in nature; but, stereotypes of outgroups typically have more negative connotations than those of ingroups (e.g., Esses, Haddock, & Zanna, 1993). The cultural stereotypes of Blacks in America are decidedly negative, containing the beliefs that they, for example, are lazy, ignorant, and dirty (Stephan & Rosenfield, 1982). As argued earlier, knowledge or awareness of this stereotype does not equal endorsement of or belief in it. That is, we imagine most readers know that Blacks commonly are stereotyped as lazy, but, we suspect that many who are aware of this do not personally believe Blacks, in fact, are lazy. Moreover and very importantly, Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996) have demonstrated that negative reactions following subliminal priming of a Black stereotype are not moderated by level of prejudice. For instance, therefore, assuming a Black stereotype had been primed for a nonprejudiced White interviewer, he or she might unintentionally react negatively to a Black job applicant [e.g., by feeling uncomfortable shaking the applicant's hand (Pettigrew, 1987).] Even though unintended, these reactions of nonprejudiced persons are problematic for race composition because they may unintentionally bias personnel decisions.

Stereotypes are more troublesome in those organizations whose HRM policies and practices allow individual managers a great deal of discretion, providing little in the way of written guidelines or effective oversight (American Psychological Association, 1991; Bielby, 2000; Mittman, 1992). Such a loose HRM system can result in personnel decisions characterized as arbitrary, allowing beliefs about the undesirable characteristics of a group (e.g., Blacks) to be applied to all its members (e.g., Braddock & McPartland, 1987; Reskin, 1998). Managers who make such ascriptions tend to disregard inconsistent information and lower their expectations for members of the negatively stereotyped group (e.g., Foschi, Lai, & Sigerson, 1994; Heil-man, 1984; Nieva & Gutek, 1980), resulting, for instance, in White workers being evaluated more positively than equally performing Blacks (e.g., Greenhaus, Parasuraman, & Wormley, 1990; Kraiger & Ford, 1985; but also see Roberson & Block, 2001). In addition, it is known that biased perceivers (e.g., managers endorsing a negative stereotype of Blacks) unknowingly can elicit confirmatory behaviors from members of the stigmatized group (e.g., Black job applicants) through such very subtle cues as nonverbal displays and gestures (Operario & Fiske, 2001); and these elicited behaviors can diminish interviewee performance (e.g., Word, Zanna, & Cooper, 1974).

The picture painted above is bleak, but, how accurate is it to assert that many managers act on negative racial stereotypes unless inhibited from doing so? Generalizing from studies examining how stereotypes might affect housing segregation, it appears the problem is real (e.g., Massey & Denton, 1993). Farley, Steeh, Krysan, Jackson, and Reeves (1994), for instance, found that Whites have a strong overall aversion toward living among Blacks and "a substantial minority of Whites mention stereotypes when asked direct questions about living with Blacks on their block" (p. 776). Damning proof of the reality of the problem is supplied by several recent studies documenting that employers' stereotypes about Blacks prompt them to discriminate against Black job applicants (e.g., Kasinitz & Rosenberg, 1996; Kirschenman & Neckerman, 1991; Moss & Tilly, 1996; Neckerman & Kirschenman, 1991).

The following quotes from employers in the Chicago area exemplify the data (Wilson, 1996):

The general manager of an inner-city hotel stated, "I see far more Blacks thinking the employer has the obligation to give him a check for doing nothing." (p. 112)

A vice president of an offset printing firm stated, "Well, I worked with them in the military, and the first chance they get, they'll slack off, they don't want to do the job, they feel like they don't have to, they're a minority. They want to take the credit and shift the blame." (pp. 118-119)

The above statements not only depict stereotype content, but also they can be taken to indicate that those who made them endorse the negative stereotype's content and, therefore, could be labeled as blatantly racist. Such racism clearly has declined over the course of the last quarter century, with Brief and Barsky (2000) [based upon data reported by Schuman, Steeh, Bobo, and Krysan (1997)] estimating that slightly more than 10% of the United States' adult, White population still openly endorse negative stereotypes of Blacks. However, the situation in organizations may be much more problematic than a 10% estimate of blatant racists might suggest. As so aptly put by Dovidio and Gaertner (1998), racial prejudice in America is a virus that has mutated. This mutated virus is a blend of early learned racial fears and stereotypes (evident as a residue of negative racial sentiments) and such treasured American values as individualism and self-reliance (reflected in deep-seated feelings of social morality and propriety; Kinder & Sears, 1981). Those infected by this new virus [which we will call "modern racism" (McConahay, 1986)] do not necessarily show outward signs of being ill nor are they aware of their illness (see, for example, Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Those who endorse the ideology of modern racism fail to define their beliefs and attitudes as racist and act in ways to protect a nonprejudicial, nondiscriminatory self-image. For modern racists to behave consistently with their (unconscious) negative racial attitudes requires that they have available "a plausible, non-prejudiced explanation for what might be considered prejudiced behavior" (McConahay, 1986, p. 100).

Based upon the above, the behaviors of modern racists within organizations would be expected to be no different than nonprejudiced persons unless they are embedded in an organizational context that supplies them with an appropriate (seemingly nonprejudiced) justification to discriminate against Blacks. For example, a manager may not want to place a Black applicant in the presumably awkward position as the first person of color in a socially tight all-White work team or take the risk of placing a Black person in the position of supervising a group of potentially hostile Whites.

These business related justifications, like the one evoked by Shoney's CEO, also may serve to release modern racists to act. This phenomenon has been demonstrated experimentally. Brief et al. (2000) showed that the sorts of business justifications we have identified produce a significant association between scores on a measure of modern racism and discriminatory behaviors and that this association is not present in conditions void of such justifications. These results suggest that modern racists in organizational settings hold themselves in check unless supplied with a business justification to discriminate. [For more on this subtle, new form of racism, see, for example, Lambert, Cronen, Chasteen, and Lickel (1996); Monteith, Deneen, and Tooman (1996); Schnake and Ruscher (1998); von Hippie, Sekaquaptewa, and Vargas (1997); and Wittenbrink, Judd, and Park (1997).]

In this section, we focused on "negative" forms of prejudice leading to discrimination and ignored "positive" forms and their consequences (Brewer and Brown, 1998). Of the material we neglected, this troubles us the most, for the consequences of "positive" prejudice likely are exceedingly common. "Positive" prejudice, at least in the form of ingroup favoritism, often entails according more positive outcomes to the members of one's ingroup than to the members of some outgroup, without treating the outgroup members negatively. For more on this phenomenon, see Brewer (1997).

In summary, negative racial stereotypes and racial prejudice imported into organizations affect personnel decisions. The function of stereotypes and prejudice in personnel decision making and subsequently, in the determination of the race composition of organizations, may be quite evident, for example, among those relatively few individuals driven by blatant racism. Alternatively, and we believe much more commonly, their role is considerably less noticeable, characterized, for instance, as subtle and rationaliz-able. The influence of stereotypes and this more subtle kind of prejudice likely will be more difficult to track from the environment into organizations, but, a fuller understanding of the race composition of organizations demands we give it a try.

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