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📓 Understanding Stereotype Threat

This lesson is part of our regular Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion curriculum.

In a previous lesson, we discussed implicit bias and how it can be harmful to people in underrepresented communities. In this lesson, we'll talk about another key concept that can contribute to imposter syndrome and workplace performance: stereotype threat.

Stereotype threat occurs when people from a group that faces stereotypes are put into a situation where they are pressured to disprove that stereotype. Unfortunately, that pressure often leads to worse performance, which can potentially perpetuate the stereotype further.

For example, the study "Stereotype Threat and Women's Math Performance" demonstrated that when stereotype threat increased, women did worse on math tests than men. Meanwhile, when stereotype threat was decreased, there was no difference in testing between men and women.

Unfortunately, simply being a member of an underrepresented population can lead to stereotype threat and imposter syndrome. People from underrepresented populations in the tech community may feel increased pressure to prove their worth. In turn, this pressure can worsen imposter syndrome and affect performance, which creates a vicious cycle.

We recommend reading this excellent article by the developer Katie Womersley about the topic. In the article, Womersley discusses stereotype threat and how she dealt with it.

How can we reduce stereotype threat at Epicodus and in the workplace? Here are a few steps:

  • Take care not to reinforce negative stereotypes. For instance, if a student were to say: "People from ___ group aren't very good at coding," that increases the stereotype threat for people from that group, even if it's meant to be a joke.

  • Focus on growth mindset. Most of the differences in our performance as developers and students comes from differences in experience. Remember that some of your peers may have had more practice coding. Over time, the relatively small differences in experience that seem big now will diminish.

  • Keep feedback constructive and refrain from disparaging comments. It is inappropriate to say something like "you're terrible at coding" to any other student at Epicodus. In addition to being rude, these kinds of comments can reinforce stereotype threat for people from underrepresented communities. Note that comments like "you type really slow" or "wow, you were in the bathroom a long time" can be seen as microaggressions while also increasing the risk of stereotype threat.

Ready to Write Your Reflection?

There is a reflective assignment for this lesson. If you are ready to write your reflection, head on over to Epicenter to find the prompt. If you are logged in to Epicenter, you can access the prompt by navigating to this link:

Reflection Prompt: Understanding Stereotype Threat

Otherwise, you can find detailed instructions on accessing the reflection prompts in the DEI Reflective Assignments lesson.

Do you have feedback?

We want to hear about your experience of the DEI curriculum. We outline all of the ways you can give feedback in the student handbook.