Avoid Assumptions

5 ways to avoid assumptions about colleagues, service-users and community members and become an active ally

Stereotyping is one of ways that bias and prejudice can play out in the workplace, not only between colleagues but between organisations and the communities they serve. To really meet the needs of individuals, it’s crucial that the devastating effects of stereotyping are understood and combated in everyday operations, at a policy level and culturally within your organisation.

1. Understand inequality in your community and more widely.

As discussed in the Basic Equality Law section, there are ways that you can plan your work to meet the needs of your community. Do your research but remember that the experiences of people with shared identities is not monolithic, you may need to be creative in your approaches, take the lead of trusted local organisations or institutions and leverage your particular expertise in service of the community.

2. Recognise that stereotyping happens around us everyday.

Whether it’s in the news, in films or in daily conversation, you’re likely to come across a number of stereotypes and assumptions. Stereotypes play a part in the act of ‘othering’ minoritised or marginalised people, and have the effect of grouping people with a certain identity or experience into one monolithic collective.

A Scope report called The Disability Perception Gap found that ‘the public is still stereotyping disabled people in all aspects of their daily lives, including how much care disabled people need and how productive they are.’ One participant states, “People used to see me as ‘one of them’ but now, because I’m disabled, they see me differently.” (Hannah, Surrey)

3. Look at the devastating effects of stereotyping: it’s no joke.

When people are grouped, stereotyped and othered in this way it is dehumanising. Take for example the racist reporting on migration which boomed during the Brexit campaign, describing migrants and refugees as ‘swarms.’ This language was leveraged to feed a stereotype and erase the realities and identities of individuals.

No matter what you thought of the Brexit result, one harrowing truth should cause us all deep concern: hate crime rocketed with 10 police forces reporting more than a 50% increase in 3 months (Stop Hate UK.)

4. Take an honest look at your own privilege and bias’

Stereotypes, by and large, rely on an idea of the norm vs. the other. Take an honest look at the parts of your identity that are accepted as ‘normal’, to the extent that you may not even have to think about them at all. If you are hetrosexual and cisgender, you proberbly never had to ‘come out’. If you’re white, you probably never have to consider if a job rejection or a snide remark was racially motivated.

And even if there are instances where a privileged part of your identity was not in the majority, the weight of social, systemic and political oppression was not against you. This is called privilege, and it operates every day on a myriad of levels.

Consider the language you use and how you can make it more inclusive. For example, the simple step of putting pronouns in your email signature and avoiding assumptions about gender in the workplace can promote a more trans-inclusive environment. Stonewall suggests tips for being an ally to non-binary people here.

Sit with discomfort as you learn more and face difficult truths. As Layla F Saad says in Me and White Supremacy, a workbook for white people seeking to be anti-racist, ‘Going a step further, white fragility, which is really fear, can quickly turn into active harm. Like going into fight-or-flight mode, your white fragility can cause you to run away, shut down like a deer in headlights, or become more aggressive, violent, and harmful to BIPOC (Black, Indiginous and People of Colour).’

5. Celebrate cultural diversity and champion equality!

If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need one another. We need our communities and we rely on each other; mutual aid has taken off in so many of our local communities through the sheer care and energy of neighbours.

As Husna Ibrahim, a student specialising in inter-faith discussions says in this article in HuffPost, ‘If you want to travel the world and gain amazing experiences and meet new people, I suggest you start in your own towns and cities. Get out there and expose yourself to new environments and practice spreading love and understanding no matter who you are or which place in the world you live in.’