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How to Make Stereotypes Work for You

My article last week garnered a lot of attention. Most of the comments I received can be summarized by grouping them into two camps: those who believe stereotypes are alive and well and those who do not. I think they're both right.

Part of what I liked about the research I cited is the researchers didn't fall into the trap of making a value judgment about stereotypes. They were incredibly objective by saying sometimes they will be activated and sometimes they will not. I think this holds true for all stereotypes—gender-based or not—and it's important to know this in order to navigate a world that is not perfect, but human.

MindsetSo how do you do that? It's all about mindset. The foremost authority today on mindset is Dr. Carol S. Dweck, also the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. While lots of research out there, like that of Claude Steel and Joshua Aronson, will tell you the simple act of indicating your race or gender before a test can lower your score, Dr. Dweck notes that this doesn't hold true for everyone.

According to Dr. Dweck, it mainly occurs for people with a "fixed mindset." For those with a fixed mindset, "When stereotypes are evoked, they fill people's mind with distracting thoughts—with secret worries about confirming the stereotype. People usually aren't even aware of it, but they don't have enough mental power left to do their best on the test."

She adds, "When people are in a growth mindset, the stereotype doesn't disrupt their performance. The growth mindset takes the teeth out of the stereotype and makes people better able to fight back. They don't believe in permanent inferiority. And if they are behind—well, then they'll work harder and try to catch up."

She is careful to note that she is not blaming the victims of prejudice and believes that in fact prejudice is deeply rooted in society, but notes "I am simply saying that a growth mindset helps people see prejudice for what it is—someone else's view of them—and to confront it with their confidence and abilities intact."


What mindset do you have? Click over to to find out.