Stereotype threat in manual labor settings for Hispanic and Caucasian participants.

Author:Flanagan, Jennifer


Prior to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Civil Rights Act, both in 1964, as well as various employment legislation, the American workforce was segregated, those segmented groups a reflection of homogenous ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, gender, and other demographic-related traits. There has been a dramatic increase in immigration especially from countries South of the United States into the Southern United States, in addition to the legal formalities, has lead to an increase in women, minority, and immigrant workers. Technology has flattened organizational structure and the workplace has become increasingly global. All of this has led to an increased focus on workplace diversity, and the benefits of being able to maneuver within a diverse work environment. There are benefits to a diverse workforce, such a as penetrating untapped markets, gaining a competitive advantage, and having a creative edge (Roberson & Kulik, 2007) and, the more diverse a company's workforce, the more diverse and innovative the company's culture, strategic plan, and communication network (Jackson, Brett, Sessa, Cooper, Julin, & Peyronnin, 1991).

A large segment of the American workforce is the manual labor population, which has, in the past, most especially during the industrial revolution, was comprised of an immigrant population. This industry has also been traditionally and overwhelmingly male, regardless of race. Minorities have had a historically occupational disadvantage relative to non-minority workers in the American workforce, and some of these patterns of occupational inequality between the groups continue today (Bound & Freeman, 1992; Fassinger, 2008). Minorities, immigrants, and even women find restricted access, unequal compensation, unofficial segregation, inadequate, underutilization, and underemployment. Often times, the feelings of inequality can impact performance and productivity on the job, which is a way to monitor employee performance and measure productivity, an evaluation of one's efficiency (outputs/inputs) and effectiveness (outputs/goals; Pritchard, 1995). Given the findings in academia, concerning stereotype threat's affect on academic tasks, productivity and test performance may be parallel variables, and the presence of stereotype threat in the workplace has proven to have similar effects in workplace and academic settings. However, much of the research has been in the area of more intellectual workplace environments, such as in management, accounting, and education. Given this previous research, two questions remain: How does stereotype threat affect simple (i.e., manual labor) work performance, and will the results mirror those in academic settings? If we look at the antecedents of stereotype threat in academic settings as applied in the workplace, we see that it is likely.


The workplace dynamic, inundated with women and minority workers, has shifted, and managers cannot ignore the shift. These various groups coming together in the workforce also bring one's generalizations about the world and those with whom they interact, often times based on stereotypes. Basically, a stereotype is a, generalization, or a consensus of members of a group with regard to the attributes of that group or individual (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2004). Stereotypes are common place, but can be regarded in many viewpoints, such as with group membership (i.e. ethnic groups) (Brigham, 1971). Stereotypes are a combination of components, rather than a single, 2-dimensional idea. Often, a component is negative (Katz & Braly, 1935), but it also relates to fixed generalizations involving a group, often based on cultural traits, ethnic characteristics, beliefs, social status, or impressions given by groups or individuals, many times oversimplified overgeneralizations (Coon, 1994). People can use stereotypes to describe others, especially in foreign situations, a completely natural human inclination, and they serve to process and filter all incoming information, sorting the information into usable and understandable categories that help people function in unfamiliar situations. They help in setting expectations about these unfamiliar scenarios and making generalizations about unknown people or groups (Jones, 1990).

What is Stereotype Threat?

Stereotype threat is ultimately the presence or perception of a stereotype. Stereotype threat concludes that not only is there a stereotype present, but that there is a fear that one's behavior will confirm a stereotype of a group that one identifies with is something more, and has different consequences. It is the threatening feeling that arises when self-stereotypes are activated and that the activation of such stereotypes, as theorized, can lead to poor performance (Steele & Aronson, 1995; Steele, 1997). Stereotype threat has been found to hamper one's ability to succeed, a central theme in both affirmative action and job discrimination claims, among other consequences. Today's stereotypes of minorities in the workforce vary, but job performance can still be impacted, regardless. For instance, African-American workers can be stereotyped as being unintelligent, loud, poor, and criminal (McAndrew & Akande, 1995); however, there are also many positive stereotypes, such as athletic and musical (Devine & Elliot, 1995). Hispanics, often referred to as being anything from hard working to illegally working the country (Cain, 2004; Weaver, 2005), also have the impact of both positive and negative stereotypes. Both negative and positive stereotypes can impact performance, regardless if the stereotype is in reference to intelligence. For instance, Hispanics are seen as being hard working (Cain, 2004; Weaver, 2005), but this stereotype can impact two fold. First, it can negatively impact manual labor performance in trying to live up to the standard being set. Second, it can motivate Hispanics to perform consistently, regardless of condition, on academic tasks.

Targeted Groups

The majority of stereotype threat work has evaluated its impact on women and African-Americans, although other groups have been explored. This research wanted to look at how Hispanics, and the increased growth of the Hispanic population in the United States. From 1990 to 2000, the Hispanic population doubled in size and as of July 2010, there were an estimated 47.8 million Hispanics in the United States, equating to 15.5% of the total population (Owens, 2006), Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the US, and it is estimated that this minority group will reach over 100 million (over 24% of the population) by 2050 (Owens, 2006; Knight, 2007). Over 31% of professional positions, 26.8% of the construction and maintenance (i.e. manual labor) industry, 22.8% of the production and transportation industry are made up of Hispanic workers (Owens, 2006). This does not mean that they are necessarily immigrants CENSUS. Foreign-born workers accounted for 49 % of labor-force growth between 1995 and 2005 (Rakesh, 2007), some legally allowed to work in the United States and some illegally entering the country. The illegal immigration debate has sparked numerous political and social issues. Immigration is also a workplace debate, as companies try to find the most cost-effective labor, having an impact on domestic-born, non-immigrant, and non-Hispanic workers.

More than 66% of the Hispanic population in the United States is of Mexican descent (Owens, 2006), so it is common for non-Hispanic Americans to assume that all Hispanics are of Mexican lineage (i.e., that the terms are interchangeable). With the illegal immigration debate of recent years, both negative and positive stereotypes are evident. Of course, the illegal immigration debate has brought up assumptions that Hispanic workers are illegal and taking jobs that were intended for American citizens, However, there are positive views of the Hispanic and, more specifically, the Mexican cultural group (Cain, 2004), such as strong work ethic, commitment to family, and passionate about life. Many of the stereotypes concerning Hispanics have changed over time. For instance, Weaver (2005) found that the positive view of Hispanics in the United States has steadily increased from 1990 to 2000. Attributions of strong work ethic, accumulated wealth, and increased intelligence have been made concerning Hispanics. It is evident that different types of stereotypes (i.e. negative and positive) may differentially influence how stereotype threat is interpreted.

Research in Academia

The presence of stereotype threat has been shown to have an effect on the performance of intelligence-based tasks on standardized tests (Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003), in laboratory studies (Steele & Aronson, 1995), in the classroom (Cole, Matheson, & Anisman, 2007; Good, Aronson, & Harder, 2008; Keller, 2007; Neuville & Croizet, 2007), and tasks thought to be "culture free," relatively pure measures of cognitive ability (Klein, Pohl, & Ndagijimana, 2007). Stereotype threat has also been shown to impact non-intellectual tasks with such groups as Caucasians in athletics (Stone, Sjomeling, Lynch & Darley, 1999), women in athletics (Stone & McWhinnie, 2008), women in negotiation (Kray, Galinsky, & Thompson, 2002), gay men in childcare (Bosson, Haymovitz, & Pinel, 2004), the elderly in memory performance (Levy, 1996), and women in driving (Yeung & von Hippel, 2008). Although the above tasks are behavioral in nature, little of the research addresses stereotype threat on manual-labor tasks in manual-labor environments. Although the current study investigates stereotype threat outside the academic domain, it is still important to review what has been done in that domain in order to get a complete understanding of the construct. Both cognitive and behavioral effects have been measured during stereotype threat manipulation in various academic...

To continue reading