No matter who you are, where you come from, or the color of your skin, you are faced with stereotypes. This also then means you have inherently been faced with a concept called stereotype threat. Before this blog was assigned, I had no concept of stereotype threat. I had never heard of the phrase prior to reading the blog topic. Now, as I reflect on my life experiences, I realize that even though I am new to the idea, it has impacted my life. In this blog post, I will talk about my struggles and encounters with stereotype threat.
Stereotype and Stereotype Threat Defined:
The terms I believe need to be defined before moving on are stereotype and stereotype threat. Put simply, a stereotype is “a network of belief [that] develops around the group in question” (Blumenfeld & Raymond, p. 23). Personally, I think stereotypes are generally based off of superficial characteristics that have minimal ground to stand on.
Now, stereotype threat reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy or labeling theory. To me, all three of these words mean that when a person hears a stereotype or label about a characteristic they embody, the person might unconsciously conform to that stereotype. You are essentially making yourself fit a box. Schmader and Hall claim a stereotype threat “occurs when individuals become concerned that they might confirm a negative stereotype about their group” (2014, p. 30). They also state “the mere awareness of these stereotypes by those who are stigmatized can systematically impair performance and perpetuate the appearance of group differences in ability” (2014, p. 30).
Throughout my twenty-one years of life, I have encountered minimal stereotypes and stereotype threat. However, there is one area of my life where I have seen the most setbacks because of stereotypes, causing stereotype threat. This area is in the dog world.
Dogs are a huge part of my life, and more specifically, working dogs. Working dogs are dogs who are trained for a specific job. These jobs include things such as police canines, explosive detection dogs, narcotic detection dogs, and search and rescue dogs. As I am sure you can imagine, these dogs have an intensity that might be intimidating to some people.
For years, the working dog world has been, and still is, run by men. Just recently, women are becoming more and more involved. Some women have succeeded, while others have not. In the working dog world, there are a lot of preconceived notions about how a dog should be trained. Unfortunately, a lot of the men in this area see women as not being strong enough or hard enough to train and work with these dogs. Cue the stereotype threat.
The women who do tend to succeed in the working dog world are the ones who are seen as “one of the guys”. They are the women who, generally, use harsh methods and conform to the “norm”. I, on the other hand, want to participate in neither of those things.
My goal is to make it into the working dog world without having to change my methods and frame of mind in regard to how the dogs are trained. Unfortunately, because of this, I have struggled. I felt pressure to conform to the “norm” so that I do not “confirm a negative stereotype” (Schmader & Hall, p. 30) about female trainers. I believe I have even performed less than my best because I was worried about confirming stereotypes of being a girl who is not cut out for hard dogs. When in reality, I don’t even know if the men who were watching were judging me in this way.
Recently, I have tried to turn this impact into something positive. I have reached out to and look up to women who have made it big with working dogs and continue to expand my knowledge. Just because the working dog world is “a man’s world” does not mean they can keep me out of it. I will not let stereotype threat keep me from reaching my goals.
I am not sure what my future holds at this point in time. However, I have always considered opening my own dog-something business. With that being said, I will want to hire the best of the best as far as employees go. Learning about stereotype threat will be a fantastic asset to a possible business. Now that I know it is alive, and unfortunately well, I can try to reduce its appearance.
In a perfect world, where I am about to open my own business, I will take time to have employees attend diversity training among other training revolved around diversity and stereotypes.
For the time being, until I am wealthy enough to open a business, I will be cognizant of my personal stereotype threats and try not to fall to them. I continue to keep my head up and work hard to show the people in my field what I am capable of.
Blumenfeld, W J. & Raymond, D. Prejudice and Discrimination, 21-29.
Schmader, T., & Hall, W. M. (2014). Stereotype Threat in School and at Work: Putting Science Into Practice. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(1), 30-37.