Diversity & inclusion7 min read

Defy stereotypes: I am, but I am not

This is an Inclusion Works Workout — an interactive session guide to help teams foster a more inclusive culture. We’re sharing this Workout so you can use it to facilitate and encourage honest discussion as part of your company’s antiracism work.

Stereotypes are a type of heuristic. In other words, we take mental shortcuts to save time and energy, which includes applying what we think are truths to whole groups.  

Dr Beverly Daniel-Tatum, a leading expert in the psychology of racism, likens stereotypes to a smog. They’re continually circulated through books, films, verbal stories and even the news. We all absorb these stereotypes like we’d breathe in a smog.

Why we need to talk about this

Stereotypes might seem harmless, but as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, they cut away any nuance or complexity to people. When we don’t have the full story, whole groups of people can be judged or even demonized through stereotypes. 

The way to devalue stereotypes is by seeing and appreciating others for the individuals they are.

Take a psychoanalytic study by Dr Susan Fiske, who found that white participants who were asked to quickly guess if someone was over 21 would show signs of feeling under threat when the image was of a Black person.

Fiske discovered that one simple prompt could reverse this reaction though: asking the participant to think about what kind of vegetable the person in the image liked to eat. This prompted the participant to think of the person as an individual with preferences, overcoming their initial reaction which was to categorize the person they saw into a stereotyped group.

This guided discussion will:

⚡ Reveal and break down stereotypes that we all encounter and are sometimes judged by

⚡ Highlight the richness and complexity of our identity 

⚡ Help everyone bring a little bit more of themselves to work and understand the stereotypes we break by being ourselves

This exercise was adapted from Marjorie Allen’s Questioning Stereotypes exercise.

Let's do this

Here’s what you’ll need:

Participants: 3+  |  Time: 30 mins  |  Difficulty: Easy
Resources: a piece of paper each, and a spare for you to record useful outputs, anything you usually need for any remote joiners 

One week in advance

✅ Send round an email confirming that you will be doing a 30-minute session about our identities and the incorrect assumptions that make us feel excluded or misunderstood. 

On the day

  1. Warm up with an ice-breaker question. Ask the room, “What is your everyday superpower? Some examples of everyday superpowers are always sitting next to the chattiest passenger, managing to do forty squats while the kettle boils, and telling knock-out bedtime stories”.

    Go first and say, “My everyday superpower is…” before going around the room round-robin style. (5 mins)
  1. Explain the exercise. Ask participants to take one piece of paper each and divide into two columns.

    In the left-hand column they will write “I am _______”

    In the right-hand column they will write “but I am not _______”

    The statement on the left can be filled in with a description like the participant’s age, nationality, ethnicity, family role, hobby, gender etc. The statement on the right is something that breaks a stereotype or goes against expectations related to what is on the left.

    Examples:

    “I am in my fifties but I am not bad with technology.”

    “I am a married woman but I am not planning on having children.”

    “I am gay but I am not ‘camp’.” (5 mins)
  1. Give the group five minutes in silence to write three statements relating to three different and important dimensions of their diversity. Tell them they can work alone or team up, whatever suits their thinking style. In this time, complete your own trio of statements so you can contribute, too. (5 mins)
  1. Share the outputs round-robin style. Each participant will share one line at a time, so go around the group three times. Remind participants it is okay to pass.

    Solicit quick feedback from the room for every statement you share. You might ask, “Did you know that about ______?”, “How might we be more inclusive towards ______ now you know this?”

    Note down any insightful comments about how the team can be more inclusive.

    An inclusion action is tiny, such as asking how someone’s hobby is going every week or to avoid a presumptuous question that makes someone feel excluded. (15 mins)
Post-Workout steps

Afterwards 

✅ Type up the inclusion notes you took as a series of short, bullet-point actions in an email. Add your most memorable moment from the session such as a funny line or multiple people learning they face the same incorrect stereotype. Share with the participants and thank them for their time and for opening up. 

✅ In your 1:1s, prompt discussion and reflection using the following talking points:

  • How did it feel to select and share the three parts of your identity?
  • Have you managed to put any of the suggested inclusion actions into action?
  • Was there anything you could have shared in the session, but didn’t feel comfortable talking about as a group?

✅ Pick one of your own “I am, but I am not” lines and start a conversation about it with somebody that did not attend your Workout session such as a colleague from another team or a trusted friend.

✅ If appropriate to, ask your close friends about stereotypes they’ve been subjected to and listen to their experiences.

✅ Commit to widening your perspective by watching a video that dispels stereotypes like BBC Three’s lighthearted series, Things Not to Say, or learning on your social media break (yes, really) by searching #notyourstereotype. If appropriate to, share anything that surprised you with your team.

Download the workout

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