Rotman Management

Banishing Occupational Stereotypes

BOMBARDED WITH STIMULI from every direction, it is not surprising that we often resort to categorical thinking to simplify incoming information. The problem is, this common habit can manifest itself in a tendency to group individuals on the basis of social categories, including race, gender and age. Further, such categories are often imbued with associations and expectations — a.k.a. stereotypes — which perceivers use to form impressions and judgments of others.

One little-discussed sub-category of stereotypes is ‘occupational stereotypes’ — collections of traits or attributes with which individuals associate members of different occupations. In this article we will describe our research into these stereotypes, showing, how they lead to segregation and some of their implications for society.

How Stereotypes Lead to Segregation

In 2013, the Ontario Bar Association launched a campaign to combat the public image of lawyers as greedy, aggressive, dishonest and manipulative. The campaign attempted to change the perception of lawyers by stressing their qualities as ‘problem-solvers’ and ‘pillars of their communities’.

Law is not the only profession associated with negative stereotypes. People tend to think of computer scientists and tech developers as possessing immense knowledge and expertise, but lacking in social skills. On the other hand, childcare workers are commonly perceived as being extremely caring — to the point of lacking the assertiveness required to be good leaders.

Understanding the occupational stereotypes that people hold has important implications for vocational behaviour and for other more widespread societal outcomes. At the vocational level, these stereotypes can have important consequences for career choice, in that people are more likely to seek out an occupation with stereotyped attributes that match their own self-perceptions.

Occupational stereotypes can also influence the experience of job-holders themselves by shaping the social expectations

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