A qualitative exploration of stereotypes in the South African academic environment
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After South Africa had adopted a democratic government, the labour force was changed profoundly. With the emphasis on diversity, employees were faced with work teams comprising people from different ages, genders, positions, races etc. The opportunity was given to value and embrace diversity in organisations. On the other hand, opportunities for prejudice and discrimination were greater than ever before. Consequently, stereotyping is evident within these diverse workplaces. If not properly managed, stereotypes can have various negative effects on the organisation. The academic sector in South Africa has to be equipped to manage diversity and therefore stereotypes to ensure the effectiveness of these institutions. The challenge is that employers need to be aware of how to manage such issues. Stereotypes are therefore a significant topic for research, specifically within South Africa. The objective of this research study was to explore stereotypes as experienced by individuals employed in the South African academic environment. A qualitative research study, specifically within the social constructivism paradigm, was employed for this study. A combination of the phenomenological and hermeneutic approaches was employed to reach the objectives of this study. The researcher made use of a case study strategy. Only one single case was utilised in this research study, namely the academic environment. Employees at one higher education institution (and two campuses) (N = 30) participated in this research study. Data was collected by means of semi-structured interviews, where after thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. The results of this study indicated that individuals working in the academic environment in South Africa are consciously aware of the meaning of stereotypes. Most participants were able to illustrate a definition of or meaning for stereotypes. The themes that were mentioned by participants included assumptions, beliefs, categorisation, generalisation, judgement as well as perception. Participants also indicated that stereotypes originate from various sources. Participants reported that primary and secondary exposure, individual differences, subjective perception as well as the fact that stereotyping was part of human nature were possible explanations for the origin of stereotypes. Participants were well aware of the fact that stereotypes originate from both us and others. When being stereotyped, individuals react to stereotypes in different ways. Participants mentioned that they react on a behavioural, cognitive and emotional level. Participants were also asked questions pertaining to the stereotypes they experience. It was found that various stereotypes exist within the academic environment. These stereotypes are experienced on an out-group and in-group level. Stereotypes mentioned by participants included age, gender, nationality, occupation, sexual orientation, race and work-related stereotypes. There were also participants from the study population who stated that they neither experienced stereotypes on in-group nor out-group level. Recommendations with regard to future research and practice were made.
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